The weeks leading up to Christmas can be difficult. While the nonstop Christmas music, variety of treats and candies, twinkling lights draped over snow-capped houses, and the good cheer of strangers can brighten our mood, it can still be a time of great loneliness and discouragement for many. For those who are lonely or suffering, the joyous signs of Christmas can intensify their pain.
As we reach the end of this notorious year of the pandemic, we can assume things will be harder than normal for many. We might not be able to travel to see our loved ones this year. We might be worried about our financial or job situations. Or we might be mourning the loss of a friend or family member.
There are no shortages of reasons for why many may be feeling discouraged, even hopeless.
But this is exactly the type of world—one of discouragement, despair, and darkness—that Jesus entered into as a child. And Christmas remains a great and beautiful reminder that Christ is with us —Emmanuel!—even in the midst of global sickness, civic unrest, a depressed economy, and widespread anxiety, fear, and loneliness.
By entering into our world and all of its suffering, He reminds us that we haven’t been left alone. That we can look to the cross to find a suffering advocate who loves us and suffers with us. That no matter what is going on in our lives, we are united to a God who understands our suffering and chooses to walk alongside us. In other words, we are never alone as we suffer.
As Christians, we have the incredible gift of being able to share this amazing truth with the world.
This makes me think of A Christmas Carol, one of my favourite Christmas stories. I always loved the ending when Scrooge, after realizing he isn’t going to die—and has been given a chance to redeem himself—begins living from a place of pure gratitude and joy. He is so overwhelmed with gratitude and grace that he can’t help pouring out his love to others. He is able to share the joy of Christmas with others because he has experienced it for himself.
I think to truly bring hope to others this season we have to first experience the hope of Christ in our own lives.
The more we can spend time with God in prayer, read Scripture, and celebrate Mass with others the more I think we begin to experience this hope for ourselves. The more easily we can recall, even at the end of a very tough year, that God remembers us, loves us, and came down to be with us in the person of Jesus Christ. And the more we experience this joy on a personal level—as Scrooge did—the more we can readily share it with others.
Once we experience this hope through prayer, Scripture, and worship, how can we share it? How exactly we share Christ’s hope isn’t as important as that we try to.
We might not know what to say or do to encourage someone this season. And that’s okay. Our goal isn’t to “fix” or “remove” someone’s suffering or difficulties (most of the time this is not within our power, anyway).
But there is something powerful about simply trying: about doing our best to be present to another person and let them know we care. By just being there, as Christ always is for us, we’re often able to remind them that they are not alone.
Still, there are some practical steps that we might consider for sharing hope with others this season.
I think it is important to set time aside and intentionally think of people in our lives who are feeling lonely or discouraged.
How about asking the Lord in prayer to bring to mind those in our lives who need His healing touch? Who in our lives do we know is struggling right now with discouragement? Who haven’t we heard from who might be feeling isolated and alone?
Once we have these people in mind, a phone call or visit can be a wonderful way to bring them hope.
But even little things can do a lot. Maybe for each day of Advent, we can commit to texting someone to let them know we’re thinking about or praying for them? Even just sending a photo of a beautiful sunrise or an inspiration quote or verse to offer a small thread of delight and connection can do wonders for someone feeling alone or forgotten.
We can also use our gifts. Perhaps you have a great voice. How about record yourself singing Christmas carols and sending them to someone as a gift (I had a friend consider doing this, which I think is such a beautiful idea)? Maybe you are a fantastic cook. Could you prepare a Yuletide-themed pie or batch of sugar cookies for someone? Maybe you find yourself with more time these days because of less social engagement and work. Then could you devote that spare time to helping wrap gifts for a family or visiting people?
By sharing our gifts as acts of love with others we can give them hope. When I receive a thoughtful letter, a small gift, or even just a text that someone is praying for me I’m reminded that there is a lot of love and beauty in our world still. I’m reminded that there are still reasons to have hope in spite of my suffering.
Finally, in prayer, we can offer up the entire world—all of us who are struggling and feeling lonely and discouraged—to Jesus. If we’re able to make it to Mass, then we can lay at the altar prayers for our loved ones. We can lift up our hearts and ask Jesus to remind them of the love He has for them—that He has for each and every one of us. And that He has entered into our sin, loneliness, and heartbrokenness to be with us always. This way, as we pray and sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” with the whole world raised in our hands, we invite the God of love and comfort into the midst of every human heart this Christmas season.
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