21 Dec 2009

Dark Side of Christmas: Loneliest Time of the Year

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Christmas, Jesus, Kingdom, Ministry, Preaching

(I placed this on my blog last year, partly because of my own situation. My life has changed drastically in the last year but I know from experience that Christmas is not all joy for many. So I offer this once again for the hurting in our midst and for the churches to minister to them)

What do you think of around Christmas? What do you normally see at a Nativity … even one at a church? There are usually animals. Mary, Joseph, Wise men all have there place. There is usually a star of some sort. And of course there are angels. Most Nativity’s are a whole lot of Luke with a little bit of Matthew thrown in for good measure.

The opening of Matthew’s Gospel is considerably different than Luke’s. He opens with that seemingly irrelevant genealogy (its not by any means!). We are then confronted with a scene that is horrific in nature. It is a crime that Tom Mueller in the December 2008 National Geographic declares “Herod is almost certainly innocent of” (p.40). In Matthew there are no angels that welcome the baby Yeshua rather we are confronted with “Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Mt 2.18). This is what is missing from every Nativity I have ever seen in my life. There are no mothers crying for their children.

But there it is right at the beginning of the “good news” about Jesus. I too used to overlook that scene from the real Christmas … but not anymore. Matthew acknowledges something that needs to be acknowledged: Christmas is painful for many people. With the emphasis on family, friends, parties, giving gifts … we need to see the “Rachel’s” in our churches and our communities that “refuse to be comforted.”

These Rachel’s have suffered loss.
Loss of loved ones.
Some to disease.
Some to death.
Some to divorce.
This time of year can be merciless for some, so much so that many even end their own lives

At Palo Verde last Sunday we had a worship service centered around “Christmas: The Loneliest Time of the Year.” We began by reading Psalm 22 which confesses intense agony. Then the service was divided into three parts we read scripture that allowed us as a church family to embrace those who have suffered loss. We invited everyone to write down a name of some one and bring it down to the communion table.

I was not prepared for the outpouring … people streamed to the table of brother and sisterhood. Psalm 88 was read for the loss of our loved ones. Every piece of paper was read. We prayed and lamented together. After the third lament was over … with all those cards still on the table … we decided to take the Lord’s Supper and “discern the body” … perhaps for the first time. We were family and we were all one before the Lord. It was powerful. We closed the service with a congregational reading of Psalm 23. We began with embrace of loss and left with the comfort of the Lord.

This coming Sunday we are doing the “other side of the coin.” We will have a happiest time of the year … but first we need to see the Dark Side of Christmas. I encourage my readers out there to embrace those hurting. Sometimes Christmas really is almost unbearable … but we can be the very comforting presence of Jesus for them. The response to our service last week has been overwhelming.

May the Shalom of our dear Lord rest upon us all.

Bobby Valentine

14 Responses to “Dark Side of Christmas: Loneliest Time of the Year”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    That is a good article, Bobby. You are so right that for many Christmas is not the happiest time. I’ve known many of those people..the lonely, sick, hurting. I have known a few who have taken their own lives. Thanks for sharing that and may we all reach out to those people. Thanks and God bless you and your family this season.

  2. Missionary's Missionary Says:

    A Not So Silent Night by Verlin Verbrugge is a good read. thank you for continuing to remember the lonely at this time of yeara.

  3. Stoogelover Says:

    What a powerful time for your spiritual family. Having been a preacher for 30 years and now a funeral director, I would love to have been present for this service. We lost a precious lady this year when my wife’s mother died. Thanks for sharing this, Bobby. So glad for the turn in your life since this time last year. No pressure or anything like that, but when do we read of the wedding announcement? Okay, pretend I never asked that question!

  4. Falantedios Says:

    I wonder, Bobby, if our communities should do more than just embrace our ‘Rachels’ — perhaps we should emulate her?

    Could we say that part of the driving force behind the ministry of Jesus and the apostles was an unwillingness to be comforted because the world was dying around them?

  5. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Nick I think you are quite right. We need to refuse to be comforted while God’s good creation is vandalized by Sin in all its manifestations. Great point.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    I remember this post last year. What a difference a year makes. From can’t wait until Christmas to can’t wait until it’s over. Divorce takes the joy away. We are experiencing divorce in out immediate family for the first time. My daughter’s family is separated by sin. It is my daughter that has sinned. She has forsaken the man she said God gave her. My wife and I are struggle terrible. Christmas has had some good moments with the grandchildren and our son but wishing it to be over. We love our daughter and we love our son in-law. He is a great man in all respects. I appreciate the post again this year. Last year I read it and appreciated it but this year it has a different meaning. I will not put my name to this but coming home from a campaign in OK in the 80’s you pointed out Orion’s belt for me. I called it the little dipper. Thanks for this post.

    God hates divorce because it makes His people feel hatred.
    May I use your ending?

  7. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    “Orion’s belt” … Oklahoma in the 1980s!! wow that was a LONG time ago. Was that Alva or Commanchee?? You dont have to answer that.

    Yes a lot can change in a year!! Even less than that!! I had NO clue I was getting a divorce until the moment my no ex wife walked out of church on Dec 16. So I know where you are coming from and I feel your pain especially if you know our own child is in the wrong. BUT love here anyway as I am sure you do. I have read and reread Hosea at least 100 times in the last 2 years … I think I have the book memorized (literally).

    That reading and life has changed me and im sure you will be too. It is a blessing to me to know that my short blog has helped in some small way. If you need to talk or vent or whatever feel free to give me a call … my # can be obtained fairly easily.

    May the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you … and grant you SHALOM,

    Bobby Valentine

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I thought it was Helton but maybe it was Ava? I think you have or had a picture of me on that campaign?

  9. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    I’m sure i do have one…i will just have to dig thru stuff to find that stuff. I believe David Underwood took us to Commanche and Wayne Kilpatrick was the director for Alva (as I recall).

  10. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    ok i dug out some ancient pictures … the few that my ex did not take … and I have group pix of both Alva and Comanche (i spelled it wrong b4). There are people in those pictures I have not thought of or seen in a very LONG time. But i think I know who you are. I will be in prayer and the invitation remains open should you ever need to vent or talk. I’ve been there and done that … and sometimes STILL do it.

    I will be in Alabama all next week.

    Bobby Valentine

  11. Ancil Says:

    Thank you for a most moving, original and true post.

    December 25 could be my most miserable. My father in law passed on that day. My first cousin’s wife died a few days before. He passed last year, he was like a brother. Also my wife died April 18and I now live alone with most family far away.

    However my joy is that all died in the Lord and this is most comforting.

    You may have suggested Sunday’s sermon

  12. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Ancil I am honored to have you reading my blog. Thank you for your kind words. Christmas can still be horrific for thousands – if not millions – of people. We as God’s People can provide a way for Rachel to be comforted by acknowledging them and embracing them. My prayers are with you this Christmas.

    Bobby V

  13. Warren Baldwin Says:

    Bobby this article is outstanding. I linked to it from Bron’s fb page where she has it posted.

    This is a lonely time of year for many. I was reminded of that this morning. My wife called and said that Mat’s dad passed away this morning. His mom passed away 2 months ago, both from cancer. He is 20 years old and said to my daughter, “I have no place to go for Christmas.”

    Mat’s family has been friends to ours for years, and his brother and sister are sending him a ticket to be with them, but that sense of loss for him right now is overwhelming.

    We have to rethink what the joy of the season really is/means, and that has to include those who aren’t singing the Christmas songs because they hurt too much.

    Thanks for reconfiguring our thinking. Good post.


  14. Warren Baldwin Says:

    Just re-read this. How appropriate to have a lament before joy. I’m going to use a much more mild lament on Sunday, including the prayer for those we know who are suffering. FB this again in 2013; it is a very good read.

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