For those of us fortunate enough to enjoy relatively good health, economic and family stability, and a strong community of friends, this time of year is mostly a time of joy and thanksgiving. It should be. The next seventeen to twenty days brings the opportunity to soak in the love and goodwill that radiates from Christmas. However, for many people there is another side to this holiday that brings about real suffering. In our own community we have colleagues who have experienced death in the family, who have loved ones ill or injured, and who are dealing with fractured family relationships. For these friends, thanksgiving and suffering are fraternal twins born into a season in which feelings of both are intensified.
I certainly do not intend to cast a pall over Christmas! I do mean to point out that our own joy can be heightened by sensitivity to others and an understanding of how thanksgiving and suffering work together. Here are a few ways that come to my mind.
Remember to say “thank you.” Gratitude is a powerful force in the life of a Christian. In good times especially, we need to remember to thank God for the blessings we enjoy. We also should remember to thank the significant others in our lives, a friend, teacher, or loved one who has made a difference.
Be sensitive to the will of God. During the Advent season we are to be in an anticipatory mood. Literally, advent means “arrival.” The time leading up to advent represents the arrival of Christ into the world, His arrival in our hearts, and His arrival in the future. Grace is reason for joy. As we sing carols and participate in Christmas activities, our lives can reflect the joy of being a Christian.
Give thanks even in difficult situations. I do not mean that one should seek joy in pain and suffering. That is, in my opinion, unhealthy. It is possible to claim the promise of God that He is reliable even in times of distress. We are not alone and never is that more obvious than this time of year that we celebrate the coming of God into the world through His son.
For Christians, the way of Christmas becomes the way of life. Thanksgiving becomes a way of living. We live in anticipation of Christ’s return. Though difficulties arise, we have confidence that they will not overwhelm us.
In the spirit of this time of year, let us all reach out to those in need with the Good News from the Suffering Servant whose birth we celebrate.