If you’re feeling pessimistic, try Christmas!

15And they brought infants to him as well so that he might touch them, but when the disciples saw they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called them and said, ‘Allow the little children to come to me, and do not forbid them, for the Kingdom of God is of this kind.

Luke 18: 15-16 – Keys of the Kingdom Holy Bible

15 And it came about, as the angels departed from them into the sky, that the shepherd men said to one another, ‘Come now, let us at once go into Bethlehem, and see this episode that has come about, which the Lord has made known to us.’

Luke 2: 15 – Keys of the Kingdom Holy Bible

Photo courtesy of Pexels

This is the first almost normal Christmas that we’ve had in three years. It’s therefore, more than ever, a suitable time for us to think about what Christmas means, or should mean. If you think I’ve left anything out, please do add a comment!

Christmas is a good time for:

Memories. We all have vivid memories of past Christmases, whether bad or good. Small things can trigger memories. In my case, one of my memories is of the very distinctive smell of Christmas wrappings, which were coated paper and not plastic-based, as now. When I conjure up this smell, which is utterly unlike anything else I remember, I can transport myself to celebrations at our family home, when I was a small boy.

Peace. Christmas is supposed to be a season of Peace, albeit for many people, it’s the exact opposite and a period of frantic busy-ness. We should all try to find a space, even if it’s only a minute each day, to allow God’s peace to penetrate our lives, through stillness. Prayer is one way to ‘listen out for God’s voice’; He speaks to us through silence perhaps more effectively than any other way. I know, it’s hard!

Goodwill. Finding the strength to display goodwill towards others is also not easy; we all instinctively know this. But a good starting point, as I’ve said on this site before, is to try to get through the few days of Christmas without doing or saying anything that makes someone else’s life harder to bear. It’s a good objective, even if we may not always achieve it.

Thanksgiving. The world is so full of trickery and bad news, that it can be hard to identify things for which we can be grateful. We should, all of us, challenge ourselves to look for things for which we’re thankful. If you feel that there’s ‘No room at the Inn’, do at least try to be grateful for your own version of the stable, in the Christmas story. Have you an ‘Innkeeper’ in your life, who’s gone out of their way to be kind to you? Give thanks for those people and for the way in which they’ve shown their generosity. Focusing on giving thanks has been shown in research to be good for our mental health; it’s much more positive than constantly focusing on the ways in which life has dealt us a ‘bad hand’. Again, I’m not claiming that this is easy.

Celebration and Joy. Not everyone who reads this blog is an active Christian. For those who are, the celebration is summed up as: God Himself coming to be one of us; God Himself choosing to subject himself to the pain and messiness of what it means to be human. But for those who don’t hold those beliefs, I can only suggest trying to focus on the fact that Christmas comes just after the shortest day. It signals the coming of the light of a New Year, the coming of a new Spring and a new Beginning. A time to reflect on the gift of life itself. That’s also an incredibly important cause for celebration!

Families and Children. For those with families including young children, it’s a gift being able to share their innocent excitement, at this time of year. For others, it should be a time when we give thanks for new life; for the next generation and for the fact that our religious focus is on a small scrap of humanity. The object of our attention at Christmas is a human being at their most vulnerable, in the hours following birth. Perhaps particularly this year, in view of how children have suffered over the last three years, we need to be grateful for all children, and for the fact that for once, those in positions of power have to surrender being the centre of attention, and instead we focus on a tiny, innocent, and helpless baby. Our children are sacred in God’s sight. And for those who have no children in their lives, it’s good to reflect on the fact that, however, humble or mighty we may be, once we were that baby, and we would not have survived without others giving of themselves. It’s worth reflecting this year on the fact that we need to embrace the massive responsibility of looking after ourselves and each other, rather than abdicating this to the State, whose representatives, as we’ve learned the hard way, may not always have our best interests at heart!

Remembering those less fortunate than ourselves. St Luke tells us that the shepherds were the first to whom the birth of Jesus was declared. Shepherds in first century Palestine were, quite literally, the lowest of the low in society; the absolute dregs of humanity. Christ came first for these people, and they were the first to recognise and proclaim the coming of the Messiah. But we also need to be conscious of the fact that this is not a lovely, joyful time of year for everyone. For some, it represents the time when a loved one was lost; it can pull back sharp memories of grief and pain. We need God’s help, to be sensitive to this. And we need to strive to bring compassion, and a sense of God’s presence, to those who may have a less than positive approach to the Christian festival, or feel that they are the ‘dregs’ of our society, in our times.

Togetherness. Again, not everyone has a family, or others with whom to share the festival; we need to remember the lonely, who can feel acutely alone at a time when others are celebrating. For those that do have families or groups of friends, however, it’s a time to remember that we’re better, stronger and more truly human, when we share space and time with others. This year, we need to hold in our hearts those who were disgracefully denied this togetherness, during long periods over the last three years. This period diminished us all, in ways that are only now becoming apparent.

Hospitality & Sharing Bread. The gift of Holy Communion lies at the heart of the Christian story; it’s a crucial part of what we believe. You may not live in a house where it’s customary to say Grace before meals. See if you can silently and briefly snatch a second or two, to give thanks for God’s bounty on Christmas Day as you sit down – maybe this or something similar: We thank you, Lord, for this our food and that we are together. Amen

Animals. Scholars believe that in the first century, the animals were kept underneath the house; they provided warmth to the human beings above; you can still see such buildings in parts of Europe. The Christmas story reminds us that we’re mutually dependant on each other, and that this was God’s intention all along. Our small dog Bertie will be a joyful reminder of this relationship between us and the animal kingdom at Christmas.

Hope and Optimism! The last three years have often felt very dark, full of shadows, worries, fear and despair. It’s been said that Christianity is nothing if it’s not a religion of hope and optimism. This Christmas, we need more than ever to reflect on these hopeful messages:

  • The Christmas story reminds us that even a new-born baby, born into poverty, can (and did!) change the world.
  • The Christmas story reminds us that we all, even the least important and powerful of us, matter to God.
  • The Christmas story reminds us that we are, all of us, the beloved children of God. Because he cares for us, we can have hope and we can have optimism.

Father, breathe the spirit of Christmas into us this year; help us to make this a celebration that helps to change the world. And, we pray, grant us the courage and the faith to believe that through your love, we genuinely can change the world to one where your values triumph. Amen

One thought on “If you’re feeling pessimistic, try Christmas!

  1. One of my readers has said that he’s unable to leave a message. I’ve copied his comments below. If you also have trouble, do let me know – I have had quite a lot of strange things happen on my blogsite!
    Good morning James, I’ve read your latest piece of writing for Reflective Preacher but it won’t let me comment on their although it has let me ‘like’ it.
    I enjoyed reading it and I’ll be truthful, everyone of your sections reminding what Christmas is a good time for we’re very well put. The one regarding thanksgiving resonated with me particularly and trust me, prayer and being grateful for what you have does wonders for mental health. I also pray that people will take responsibility for themselves and others rather than lazily leave it to the state.
    Thank you for posting such a good read and keep on inspiring people like me with your wisdom 🙏😊
    God bless, Craig


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