The more joys and sorrows I live through personally and see in those around me, the more convinced I am that Christmas — over any other season — tends to make life’s sweet things sweeter and hard things harder.
For some, this Christmas will bring a burst of excitement as we fill our homes with lights, carols, and generations of those we love. For others, each day will be a feat of endurance as we trudge through reminders of lack, or memories of loss. Given Jesus’s assurance that in this life we will have trouble (John 16:33), we likely will experience Christmases of both kinds (if we haven’t already).
Those facing a dark season of disappointment and pain can find comfort in God’s promise to draw near to the brokenhearted and save the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). Meanwhile, those anticipating a bright season of gratitude and cheer can reflect the compassion of our God by drawing near to the brokenhearted around us.
“Christmas — over any other season — tends to make life’s sweet things sweeter and hard things harder.”
The Savior we celebrate this Christmas sees our tears (Psalm 56:8), draws near (Psalm 145:18), and is with us always (Matthew 28:20). Likewise, we reflect his lovingkindness as we remember the sufferers around us, invite them in, step into needs, and remain steadfastly present through it all.
1. Remember the Sufferers
For those of us in a vibrant Christmas of gladness, it may be easy to forget harder seasons we’ve had in the past. Those now enjoying the constant closeness of a spouse may forget how lonely it was to be single at Christmas, longing for marriage. Those now settled into their ideal home may forget the restlessness of a vagabond Christmas spent in transitory places. Those now in a place of financial stability may forget the stress of a Christmas spent anxiously trying to pay bills, feed a family, and sacrifice to scrounge up a gift.
As we consider our past trials and the encouragement and promises we clung to most, we are quicker to identify with and comfort others in their affliction with the comfort we first received from Christ (2 Corinthians 1:4). The memory of our sufferings often softens our hearts toward others in theirs.
Some of the most meaningful care I’ve ever received has come from the thoughtfulness and intentionality of those who consistently checked in on me through periods of hardship — especially prolonged ones. We too can follow up on prayer requests shared in small group weeks prior, text our friends when their grief crosses our minds, bake cookies for a neighbor spending Christmas alone, or write a note of encouragement to a struggling coworker. We might even call a family member on an especially hard day in the Christmas season. In doing so, we assure the struggling that their sorrows aren’t overlooked.
Jesus came at Christmas to be a merciful and faithful high priest (Hebrews 2:17). We can likewise be merciful, faithful people who keep the hurting on our hearts and express it, thus reflecting how he keeps them on his.
2. Invite Them In
Grief can be lonely — especially in a season so centered on togetherness. But this season is built around the welcoming of Immanuel (Matthew 1:23) — the God with us always, whose life and death invites us into unbroken fellowship with him and a love from which nothing can separate us (Romans 8:38–39). As Christ has welcomed us, so he commands us to welcome one another, that God might be glorified in this reflection of him (Romans 15:7).
“Our God sets the lonely in families. We can be one of those families this season.”
In both instinctive and inconvenient ways, we can welcome the lonely into our enjoyment this season. We might ask them to join us in picking out a tree, invite them over to watch a Christmas movie, save them a seat with our family during the Christmas Eve service, or welcome them to our Christmas lunch. Our God sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). We can be one of those families this season, open-armed with others as God our Father sent Christ our brother to be for us.
3. Step into Needs
Oftentimes, others’ troubles are so great and their adversity so devastating that we (rightly) perceive the ways God must intervene to counsel and restore as only he can. But even as we pray for him to do so for the hurting this Christmas, we can look for small, immediate opportunities to step into tangible needs, as just faint echoes of the Word made flesh at Christmas to feed, heal, and provide for those he dwelled among (John 1:14).
Maybe he’ll lead us to buy Christmas gifts for the children of parents who were just laid off, shovel snow for a neighbor with debilitating pain, or drive an elderly church member to visit grandchildren. And when we are at a loss as to what would be most beneficial to those struggling around us, we can humble ourselves to ask them — seeking what would actually be best rather than trying to serve in ways that might inadvertently burden them. God knows what we need before we even ask (Matthew 6:8), but we are not him.
We likely can’t solve others’ greatest problems, but we can meet peripheral needs to reflect the Shepherd who sees and offers to meet their deepest ones.
4. Remain Present
We spend a lot of time at Christmas talking about presents, often forgetting the root of the word as presence — a precious gift and ministry we can offer the sorrowful around us. As we pray with the grieving in silence because truth has already been spoken and we can’t think of anything left to say, as we sit with the fearful in hospital rooms waiting on an update, as we hold the hands of those crying in our living rooms, we can trust the Holy Spirit to intercede for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).
Our God is continually with us (Psalm 73:23). We can’t (and don’t need to) be omnipresent with others. But we can offer the comfort of (even our silent) presence as a small demonstration of the steadfastness of his.
Reflecting the Light of the World
Given both the joys and sorrows around us this season, we would do well to begin in prayer, asking for a tender heart moved by the afflictions of those around us, for God to mend what only he can, for discernment in how he can make us vessels of his healing mercy, and for willing spirits to be used as such.
The first Christmas was a sunrise from on high (Luke 1:78–79) — our merciful God coming to give light to us in darkness and guide our feet into the way of peace as we walk through both the sweet things Christmas makes sweeter and the hard things Christmas makes harder. The baby we celebrate this season was sent to bind up the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1) — both our brokenheartedness and that of those around us — and we reflect the Light of the World this season by carrying on his ministry with the compassion, wisdom, and faithfulness found in him.