It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year — one filled with joy and laughter. For believers, it’s supposed to be a reason to celebrate. So, why do I (and so many others) struggle with Christmas? Here are three reasons I’ve found to be true in my own life.
Sometimes when I experience the Christmas blues, it is a result of selfishness. When this is the case, I need to remember the gospel and how it speaks to this struggle.
I need to remember that Christmas is not about me. My perspective is oftentimes radically self-centered and prideful. I’m frustrated because I’m making Christmas about me. But our celebration of the incarnation shouldn’t be about the stress of finding the perfect gift or the annoyance of crowded shopping centers. Christmas is about Jesus entering the world, fulfilling the promise of God to redeem his people, and establishing God’s kingdom.
I need to remember that it is better to give than to receive. Acts 20:35 reminds us of Jesus’ own words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Our Lord and Savior lived this out in his own self-giving. Christmas is his holiday, and it’s about generosity. It’s about giving gifts — not because we have to, but because we genuinely want to share our joy with others.
I need to remember that Christ is the best gift of all. God has come in the form of a baby. He has lived a sinless life, died a shameful and undeserved death, and paid a debt I could not have otherwise paid to our holy and perfect God. Because he was resurrected from the dead, the curse of sin has been put to death, and he has made a restored relationship with our heavenly Father possible. That’s the best gift we could ever receive.
When we remember the good news of the gospel, it changes our perspective. Because we’ve experienced Christ’s love, we can extend grace to everyone. And when we’re reminded of this truth, we can combat the selfishly judgmental thoughts we often have running through our minds — the jealousy we feel when we think others are getting better than they deserve. When we think about what Christ has given to us, we can remember that a gift is just that — a gift — not something deserved, but a grace that is freely given. It’s a gracious demonstration of love, not an obligation.
A second reason I struggle with Christmas is that I’m frustrated with a greedy and commercialized world. I desire to give my kids the good gifts they want without giving in to the greedy newer-bigger-better mentality that is rampant in the commercialized society all around us.
We’ve all been there, right? We’ve all asked our kids to make a list of what they want for Christmas. Then we’ve taken that list and compared it to the budget we have for gifts. Sometimes it can handle the expectations; sometimes it can’t. How do we balance the level of expectation with our ability to provide? How do we lead our families through the rough waters of entitlement?
We can only navigate those waters by reminding our kids that it is more blessed to give. We can teach them generosity by giving them practical demonstrations of how to be generous and why. Here are some key truths to model.
Generosity involves a sense of fairness. Be careful to hear what I am saying and what I’m not. I’m not saying absolute equality. I’m talking about the kind of self-giving that does its fair share to meet the needs of others. Parents, we need to be living in such a way that our kids see us being generous with our time, talents, and treasures in order to meet the real needs of those around us. We need to ask (and ask our kids), “Are we doing our fair share?”
Generosity can’t be commanded; it must be voluntary. According to 2 Corinthians 8, there is blessing associated with voluntary generosity. So our kids must want to. We need to show them that when they cheerfully give, the joy comes from seeking the well-being of another, not from what they can get out of it. Ultimately, our generosity is motivated by how generous God is with us through Jesus. We need to ask (and ask our kids), “Do we want to give? Why or why not?”
Generosity remembers Jesus. Just as I need to remember Christ’s generosity when I’m selfish, my kids also need to remember Jesus when they are tempted by greed. Jesus loved us so much that he left the riches of heaven for us. His death shows us the lengths of his love and what generosity truly looks like. His resurrection removes the barrier of sin and death and provides the power through the Holy Spirit to be generous like he is generous. We need to ask (and ask our kids), “How have we remembered Christ’s gift to us today?”
Pain and grief
There have been times when my struggle with Christmas has not been merely a result of personal selfishness or worldly sin. Instead, my Christmas blues have been an experience of deep grief and pain due to the world’s brokenness. And when that’s the case, I must remember love.
We need a place to process our losses in light of the hope we have in Christ. I’m thankful that the elders of my local church have begun to host an annual Blue Christmas service. This is a time when those who are hurting can come and lament. It’s a service to be quiet, still, grieve each year’s losses, and perhaps even prepare for the difficulties of a Christmas season without someone you love. The Blue Christmas service is for people who are grieving a death, who have spouses or family members overseas (in the military or on the mission field), or who have gone through a divorce. It focuses on finding hope in the gospel and the presence of Christ even in the midst of loss.
Why have we found this to be valuable? Our society doesn’t really like grief and suffering, and we want to rush people through it. We’re pressured to not show weakness. Even the church can be seen as a place where you are told how to feel or what to do. In both church and society, people feel like they have to hide their pain to be strong.
The reality is that the opposite is true. It takes more strength to show your grief and pain and feel it than to run away from it. Our desire is to be a church that creates a space for people to grieve, to be a church that shows that suffering is real and people aren’t always happy. The Blue Christmas service says to our church community, “It’s okay to be broken,” and it says to the wider community around our church, “We are a place where it is okay to be where you are at any time”
When we are struggling with Christmas, we can help ourselves and others by remembering what Christmas is all about and by keeping our focus where it should be: on the incarnation and birth of the One who was prophesied, born of a virgin, and who lived and died to save us from sin. The good news of Immanuel confronts our selfish hearts. And it’s the message that motivates generosity and care for those who are in brokenness and pain. Christ is the one who leads us to hope and peace even in the midst of the Christmas blues.