to accompany and give back hope

Parish Nursing Bulletin



Christmas Hope

Christmas is…a blazing star, angelic choirs, God with us as a human infant…Immanuel! For some, Christmas is…the loneliest, most painful, despairing time of the year. For many of us, Christmas is…a mixture of enjoyment, stress, exhaustion, and guilt. What meaning do these conflicting pictures have for us and our well-being?

In the words of John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us". That the Creator of the universe should choose to descend to Earth and enter history as a human baby is amazing indeed! No wonder there were celestial singers, startled shepherds, and dedicated wise men guided by the brightest star ever seen. That God loves us so much is difficult for us to comprehend. So we have internalized this truth mostly in the sentimentalized form presented by Christmas pageants, choir cantatas, carol singing, and gift giving. At the best times of our lives, Christmas means homecomings, family gatherings, excited children, tables groaning with food: Moments in time when the usual routines of work and life pause for togetherness, celebrations, and love.

But no one lives at the peak all the time. The descent to the valley is extremely painful. Empty places at the family table, devastating illness, broken relationships, poverty and want, whatever has broken our lives makes a mockery of Christmas celebrations. The pageants and carols serve only to remind us of our loneliness, pain, and isolation. If this is how we feel, however, we are missing a central point of the Christmas story. "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it", John 1:5. The original Christmas story features an unwed, pregnant teenager who travelled with her betrothed for three days on a donkey, away from home and support, to give birth, not in a hospital, home, or palace, but in a stable. Now there is darkness for you. (Clearly God is not an obstetrician or He would have arranged things differently!) God chose to come into the darkness to show us that He is with us through our darkest times.

In the middle ground where most of us live most of our lives, Christmas frequently is a romanticized fiction promoted by retailers and advertisers. We must buy the newest toys for the children, wear the latest fashions, decorate our houses, and entertain lavishly. Our efforts to live up to these unrealistic images can leave us cranky, exhausted, and guilt-ridden that somehow we have not managed to provide for our families the kind of Christmas we remember as children. We need to consider that this version of Christmas is far removed from God's original intention. When the things that we do to celebrate "God with us" get in the way of our enjoying God's presence, then we need to reconsider our priorities.

What meaning does all this have for our well-being? Our brains turn the way we experience life into a host of chemicals that affect all parts of our bodies, for good or ill. When we think of "killer illnesses", heart attacks, strokes, and cancer come quickly to mind. The less obvious but equally deadly killers are loneliness, isolation, and hopelessness. We can't change our situations, but perhaps we can change our perceptions somewhat. When life is good, we need to celebrate rather than taking things for granted. When life is disastrous, we can cling to the hope that Mary and Joseph had as they journeyed into the unknown darkness; the hope that God is with us, even if we can't sense His presence at this point. When we are on the Christmas treadmill, we can set aside a little time to identify what is really important to us and get rid of some of the nonessentials. Wherever we are at this point, we can remember that we are valued, loved human beings meant to live in relation with God and each other. In the darkest night, keep faith that you will see the Star of Bethlehem, if not right now, then in the foreseeable future. It took the Wise Men a while to arrive!


Margaret E. Black, Parish Nurse


© 2009 Parish Nursing Ministry