Christmas: the agony and the ecstasy

Nicky Lock

A newly pregnant young woman I know was sharing her excitement about her preparations for Christmas with her hairdresser – who replied, “Well surely you must be more excited about getting ready for your new baby”. The mother-to-be responded “you just don’t realise how much I love and enjoy Christmas”.

On the other hand, I personally know of three families who have lost dearly loved family members, violently and suddenly, in the last two weeks. These families are struggling through clouds of grief and despair as they try to “make Christmas happen” for those around them: there is little joy for them in these weeks of endless tinsel, trash and treasure.

As counsellors, we often experience a rush of clients in the final weeks leading up to Christmas – it seems along with the new lounge/patio setting, they want their relationship to be sorted out and renewed in the closing days of the year. For existing clients, the dynamics of their dysfunctional families, that often led to them counselling in the first place, are brought into sharp focus by the way in which the family get togethers are organised, by the thought of having to face everyone on Christmas Day –or alternatively by the loneliness of the separated parent who for the first time will not wake up to the sounds of their giggling children opening their Christmas stockings.

So behind all the festivities, rejoicing, the fun and loving family gatherings, there are often dark undertones. I often wonder if Mary, as she pondered the wonder of Jesus’ birth with the visits of angels, shepherds and magi, had some inkling of the sad future she had to face in her son’s premature death. There is an ancient Christmas carol, “the seven joys of Mary” that elucidates her joy in his birth, his teaching, his healing, but also in his crucifixion, followed by his ascension:

“6. The next good joy our Mary had,
    It was the joy of six;
To see her own son, Jesus Christ,
    To wear the crucifix:

7. The next good joy our Mary had,
    It was the joy of seven;
To see her own son, Jesus
    To wear the crown of heaven”.

Biblical writers never shy away from the reality of life – that it is a mix of pain and joy. Some would argue that it is this balance between the joyful and the sorrowful that allows us to truly appreciate both conditions. Some years ago I attended a wedding where the father of the bride passed away just a couple of weeks before the wedding. We had a minute’s silence to remember and honour him, and it was in those moments of sad reflection that the gladness of the wedding was brought into sharp and ecstatic relief.

For some, this Christmas will be one of those times: the deep sadness of loss counterpoised against the wonder of God made man. We need to be aware and sensitive to that in our communities.