This article was my December 2012 cover article for the Covenant Courier.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Christmas music started up on the radio weeks ago; stores began to showcase their Christmas gear. For weeks now, the engine has been gearing up to propel us into the pre-Christmas carnival of events, concerts, parties, shopping, sweets, wrapping, decorating, sending cards, and general merriment. “It’s the hap-happiest season of all.”
And yet for so many, it is a dreaded season. The number of people suffering depression spikes during the holidays. The depression is usually not due to the regular anxieties of additional expenses and time commitments and social obligations. Some suffer from devastating lonliness because they have no close loved ones with whom to spend the holiday. Others ache after the death of a loved one, and they wonder how the holiday will ever feel the same. Still others live in fear, struggling financially, wondering if they’ll be able to afford a special holiday for their children. There are any number of traumas in life that can quickly turn what is supposed to be a season of festivity and fellowship into a season of hidden pain and dread.
How are we to respond? Should we put on a brave face? Should we hide our pain behind a veneer of festivity so we don’t ruin anyone else’s good time? Should we simply withdraw and isolate ourselves? Should we rage at the merriment? Permit me to offer an alternative.
We must first remember the old story of Christmas. The Christmas story is about the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. God took on flesh and dwelt among men. This is the mystery of the incarnation. Hand in glove with that old doctrine is the idea that Jesus also suffered. He experienced the fullness of the pain of human life: he wept over his friends, he suffered indignities and physical cruelty, he felt anger and wrath. Jesus suffered the pains of temptation, as we’re told in the book of Hebrews: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15). Quite simply, Jesus came to suffer, just as we suffer.
Therefore, we can cry out to him in our sufferings. The book of Lamentations is a record of Jeremiah’s crying out to God over the suffering that followed the destruction of Jersualem: “See, O Lord, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart, I am disturbed.” (Lamentations 1:20) An unnamed psalmist cries out “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). Jesus, in his agony on the cross, used the words of Psalm 22 to cry out his own suffering “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). The scriptures lead us to understand that we can fully voice our lament to God. We have every right to cry out to God in our pain.
Indeed, I think it spiritually healthy to do so. That is why we instituted the tradition of having a special Service for Healing and Wholeness. This is an opportunity for those who are aching and those who wish to support them to come and cry out to the Living God. During this service we’ll read through some of the scriptural laments, we’ll hear God’s word proclaimed, we’ll have time for silent prayer, and we’ll have an opportunity for anointing and prayer for whoever wants it. This year’s service is on Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 7pm in the Chapel of Covenant-First Presbyterian.
We trust that our God hears our prayers and our cries. Through His goodness, He offers strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. We don’t have to fake our way to joy. We can rather honestly take our pains to the living God, and receive the healing that he brings. I hope you’ll come to the service, and enjoy the warmth of His grace.
Soli Deo Gloria