Christmas: the agony and the ecstasy

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. 

Nicky Lock, BSc(hons) Grad Dip EFT PACFA reg., Senior Counsellor and Clinical Consultant, and a lecturer and author of counselling courses.

Comments (5)

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  • Stephen Davis
    December 6, 11 - 12:13pm
    Very good article Nicky and some good advice on how to interract with those who have suffered tragedy in the last year.
  • Robert James Elliott
    December 6, 11 - 4:09pm
    Great article again Nicky. It is hard for many to comprehend just how awful Christmas is for some people. It is a lonely, dispiriting time, filled with reminders of family and friends who are no more. But all churches can provide fellowship and friendship to the lonely - perhaps 'adopt' someone you know who is lonely and needs company?
  • Ernest Burgess
    December 6, 11 - 8:01pm
    Hi Nicky There seems to be more sadness around this time year than I have seen before. I passed several railway stations today on my way to have lunch with a friend and could not spot a happy face amongst the crowds on any of them. It some how reminded me of Arc Harts new book Thrilled to Death (how the endless pursuit of pleasure is leaving us numb)maybe we Aussies are starting to wake up that materialism just does not satisfy and that it is good relationships with others that matter most particularly with our families and with our saviour. Your story of the father of the bride reminded me of a pastoral event I was privilege to be part of in a palliative care hospital where the father who was dying went through the wedding service and gave his daughter away it was captured on video to be played on the churches big screen and it was arranged so the minister could then do the rest of the service at the church.The family though it was a lovely thing to do for them but the best thing is that Christmas above shows us what God was prepared to do how much he loves us and we need to tell the dispirited that His love has not lessened or given up on them.
  • Robert James Elliott
    December 7, 11 - 4:13pm
    The example of remembering those who have passed at a wedding also allows us to appreciate the cycle of life and, as well, our inevitable fate and our own death and judgment.
  • Nicky Lock
    December 7, 11 - 9:10pm
    Tx for everyone's comments. One of things my local church did this week to help with addressing those grieving was to hold a simple "remembrance" service - a casual setting with Christmas decorations and candles and boxes of tissues, a short talk on grief with talk of Christian hope, PS 23, playing a quiet version of Ps 23 for a time of reflection when people could light candles or hang an ornament on the tree with the name of their loved one written on it,finishing with a closing prayer about God's comfort in times of distress. Tea and coffee were sympathetically served to the crying. Tears were shed, people prayed together and hugged each other, and talked of being deeply helped by the service.