The Christmas season is still upon us, albeit coming to a close. Traditionally the 12 days of Christmas is celebrated from Christmas Day through the Epiphany, the coming of the three kings on Jan. 6. The Church closes the season with the Baptism of the Lord, which is Jan. 12 this year.
While the Christmas season usually brings much joy and celebration (rightfully) surrounding the commemoration of Christ’s birth, and happiness abounds as families gather to share a meal and presents, sometimes, on one Christmas season or another, we experience deep sadness or pain. A loved one dies close to the holiday. A grown child strays. A disease is diagnosed. In my own life, my first Christmas as a married woman was like this — I experienced a miscarriage on Christmas day and spent the afternoon in the emergency room at the hospital. Not every Christmas is going to be like the holiday depicted on a Currier and Ives plate. Sometimes, devastating circumstances can be thrust upon us this time of year. Crushingly devastating.
When this happens, we are prone to feeling something close to despair, especially as the festivities wane and the world seems to be getting back, matter-of-factly, to ordinary life. Have you ever felt like this?
What do you do when something catastrophic hits you? When you have failed? When clearly your goals and efforts have not been met by an outcome you worked for and desired? When your robust and determined energies have not been enough? When something — physical, emotional or spiritual — comes upon you suddenly, and painfully, and is out of your control, juxtaposed against the gaiety of Christmas joy? When sickness, spiritual or physical, invades your life? Or, when fresh grief is so severe you feel you cannot take another breath, you cannot eat and you cannot sleep? When, while you haven’t completely given up, you are unable to know really how you are supposed to carry on, with such a heavy heart. With questions unanswered. With wondering what you could have or should have done to make things different.
You long for the typical troubles of the typical family this time of year — where to store the extra garland picked up at a sale at Target, when to fit in writing all the thank you notes necessary from the holiday, and how to clean everything up quickly and efficiently after a busy celebratory season, first world problems for sure. If only that were all you had to worry about.
I realize most people don’t think of suffering when they think of Christmas, but so often it is there — buried perhaps behind a polite smile, simmering under a sincere but double edged Merry Christmas. In fact, that very first Christmas, in its amazement and joy and prophecy fulfilled was soon laced with sorrow as the evil King Herod hunted down to find baby Jesus. He wanted to kill Him. In fact, from the beginning, the Christmas story was mixed with suffering — weary travelers finding no place at the inn: A pregnant wife, uncomfortable from an uncertain journey, an evil king seeking death for an infant child, a husband waking his wife in the night and sneaking out to escape an evil plan against them.
Suffering continues to be a mystery in all of our lives, and many times it doesn’t make sense in a logical mind. 1 + 1= 2. If I do A and B, then C should be the result, but sometimes it isn’t. And why do innocent people suffer? Why does catastrophe strike some but not others? And, of course, we all ask, even if just quietly in our hearts, Why me?
I don’t know.
Tomes have been written on the subject of suffering, its meaning and its reason. And many more books will be written on the subject for sure. Why? Why? I don’t know. But I know God loves us and is with us in it. That’s all I can offer.
In your sorrow, in your suffering, in mine, we can find hope in the newborn Jesus. Like Mary and Joseph, we don’t understand the circumstances thrust in our lives at this time, at this juncture in history, even with our best intentions, even when we don’t feel we ‘deserve’ the suffering or pain. And like Mary and Joseph we trust in God’s providence. One step at a time we take our lives in faith, like the donkey led by Joseph into Bethlehem, like the kings who followed an uncertain star. Step by step, in faith, slowly, we too will find Him.
The Christmas season, beginning on Christmas day and ending with the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 12, is a time of hope, punctuating warmth into the cold of winter.
If you have a private sorrow, the Christmas season and Epiphany is still for you. In fact, it is especially for you.
Have hope. He loves you and came for you.
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