I am thinking a lot this Christmas about the fact that for many people, more than would ever be willing to admit openly, there is very little, “merry” about Christmas. They are caught up in personal troubles and situations that are causing them intense pain and anguish of heart and mind, soul and spirit. They see all the decorations, and hear the music, receive the cheerful, bright and wonderful greeting cards from friends and family, and it yet these things are another pointed reminder to them of a long-felt grief, or hurt, or sorrow, a reminder that while many are merry, they are not.
Our cultural celebration of Christmas contributes in large measure to this problem. Christmas is a time for family, so we are told. But what happens when your family is missing a beloved father, or mother, grandma or grandpa, son or daughter? What happens when Christmas for you is a reminder that you have lost a dear one to death? What about other problems that might be hurting a family at this time? What about the sickness that has you or a loved one in its grip? Christmas can often also be a reminder of the failings of the past year that haunt, a reminder of all your personal faults and the trouble that you may have brought on yourself, with your own sinful choices and actions. Oh, how sharp that pain is, and particularly so at a time of “happiness,” when you are feeling anything but happy.
How important it is then to let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly at this time, a Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us, a Word through Whom all things were made, that have been made. It was this Word, sent from the Father, who came among us, to be our great Savior, from sin, from death, from the power of hell, to pour out his lifeblood as the perfect atoning sacrificial ransom for the sins of the world.
The best advice I can give to those who are feeling lonely and sad at this time of the year is: reach out to people whom you know, and share your love with them. Dive deeply into the Word of God. Take advantage of every opportunity provided to gather with your fellow saints in Gods’ House for worship and to receive the true and lasting gifts of Christmas: forgiveness, life and salvation. These are the gifts that are truly what make for a Merry Christmas. In spite of the loneliness, and in spite of the pain, and there is no denying either, there always stands Christ, with arms open wide, saying to you, “Fear not. I have overcome the world.” He says to you, “Let not your heart be troubled” and “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” This is not some kind of “magic formula” for you to recite that will just magically make all the pain go away, but you can, and you must, continue to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and pray the Psalms. These are the words Jesus has for you, for you to use and to pray. You can think those things that you ought, to set your minds on things above, and not dwell on those below. The “things above” are the beautiful and powerful truths that Christ reveals, in His Word.
Here are some powerfully comforting words for you from the Lutheran Confessions, that you should read very carefully and hold them close. Read these words out loud and then return to praying the Psalms. Recite them daily or as often as necessary when you feel a bout of gloom come over you at this time of the year:
“The doctrine that God in His counsel, before the time of the world, determined and decreed that He would assist us in all distresses,anxieties and perplexities, grant patience under the cross, give consolation, nourish and encourage hope, and produce such an outcome as would contribute to our salvation affords glorious consolation under the cross and amid temptations. Also, as Paul in a very consolatory way treats this, Rom. 8:28- 29, 35, 38, 39, that God in His purpose has ordained before the time of the world by what crosses and sufferings He would conform every one of His elect to the image of His Son, and that to every one His cross shall and must work together for good, because they are called according to the purpose, whence Paul has concluded that it is certain and indubitable that neither tribulation, nor distress, nor death, nor life, etc., shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Solid Declaration, Article XI.48-49.
So, indeed, in no matter what situation you find yourself, you can, and you will, have a “merry” Christmas, with Christ at the center, and by your side. You can say with the blessed Apostle: “I have learned the secret of being content.”I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:10-13).
Centuries ago, a Lutheran pastor wrote a beautiful Christmas hymn full of joy and comfort. And he was preaching to himself, for he was a man who had suffered the loss of a dear wife and the death of several children. He would be, during his career, removed from his office for remaining faithful to God’s Word, when he was persecuted and pressure to compromise. Pastor Paul Gerhardt wrote All This Night, My Heart Rejoices:
1. All my heart this night rejoices, as I hear far and near sweetest angel voices. “Christ is born,” their choirs are singing, till the air everywhere now with joy is ringing.
2. Forth today the conqueror goeth, who the Foe, sin and woe, Death and hell, o’erthroweth. God is man, man to deliver. His dear Son now is one With our blood forever.
3. Shall we still dread God’s displeasure, who, to save, freely gave His most cherished Treasure? To redeem us, He hath given His own Son from the throne of His might in heaven.
4. Should He who Himself imparted aught withhold from the fold, leave us broken-hearted? Should the Son of God not love us, Who, to cheer sufferers here, left His throne above us?
5. If our blessed Lord and Maker hated men, would He then be of flesh partaker? If He in our woe delighted, would He bear all the care of our race benighted?
6. He becomes the Lamb that taketh sin away and for aye full atonement maketh. For our life His own He tenders and our race, by His grace, meet for glory renders.
7. Hark! a voice from yonder manger, Soft and sweet, doth entreat: “Flee from woe and danger. Brethren, from all ills that grieve you you are feed; All you need I will surely give you.”
8. Come, then, banish all your sadness, one and all, great and small, come with songs of gladness. Love Him who with love is glowing. Hail the star, near and far light and joy bestowing.
9. Ye whose anguish knew no measure, weep no more, see the door to celestial pleasure. Cling to Him, for He will guide you where no cross, pain, or loss can again betide you.
10. Hither come, ye heavy-hearted, who for sin, deep within, long and sore have smarted. For the poisoned wound you’re feeling help is near, One is here Mighty for their healing.
11. Hither come, ye poor and wretched. Know His will is to fill every hand outstretched. Here are riches without measure. Here forget all regret, fill your hearts with treasure.
12. Let me in my arms receive Thee; On Thy breast Let me rest, Savior, ne’er to leave Thee. Since Thou hast Thyself presented now to me, I shall be evermore contented.
13. Guilt no longer can distress me; Son of God, Thou my load Bearest to release me. Stain in me Thou findest never; I am clean, All my sin is removed forever.
14. I am pure, in Thee believing, From Thy store evermore, righteous robes receiving. In my heart I will enfold Thee, treasure rare, let me there, loving, ever hold Thee.
15. Dearest Lord, Thee will I cherish. though my breath fail in death, Yet I shall not perish, But with Thee abide forever there on high, in that joy which can vanish never.
Notes: Hymn #77 from The Handbook to The Lutheran Hymnal Text: Luke 2:11 Author: Paul Gerhardt, 1653; Translated by: Catherine Winkworth, 1858, altered.
Titled: Froehlich soll mein Herze springen
Composer: Johann Crueger, 1653 Tune: Froehlich soll mein Herze
When Christmas is Not “Merry”