“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:23
Many of us will recognize this line from the Christmas song Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly. We might even remember the lyric that runs before it: “Tis the season to be _____”. What is the next word?
Well, it’s “Jolly”. Yes, Jolly. Something like happy, giddy, or silly. We often think of Christmas of a time of joy and happiness, which is a good thing.
Our secular culture has overtaken the original meaning of Christmas. In Christianity, December 25th is reserved as a celebration of the birth of Jesus. But in our culture, Santa Claus now dominates the scene.
Christmas decorations break out in the stores earlier and earlier it seems. Some stores even have decorations up in the middle of November. The decorations serve the purpose of a visual reminder that we need to get gifts. Everyone is focused on tangible gifts to give to our family and friends.
Everyone, except my grandson, Teddy, that is. Teddy loves Christmas like none other. Not just the gifts part – that’s OK, but he loves the decorations. All of them. He couldn’t wait to help decorate his tree, seen above. Putting on the ornaments just clicks his clock. His excitement is infectious. He loved putting up all the garland of pine boughs on the stair railing.
Even more, he loves to come to our house and help my wife arrange her Christmas village of small houses in our dining room with the ultimate excitement at setting up the tiny railroad that runs around a track on the table. He has a willing accomplice in my wife who loves helping him and just watching him smile. That’s what “jolly” looks like in our family.
But there’s another part of Christmas where there is no “jolly”. It is a season where some have difficulty and suffer what has been described as the “Christmas blues.” These are people who don’t have family around and they are lonely. Others have suffered the loss of a family member recently, and the Holidays only serve as a poignant reminder of their loss. Statistically, one in every six people have a hard time at Christmas.
We live close to a large military base at Fort Bragg. Consequently, we have military families in our community. Many of them are in Special Forces and are deployed to places where even their own families don’t know where they are. These families are often left to celebrate Christmas without a father, or in some cases a mother, who are on deployment.
I was surprised, but Christmas is also a time of stress. Just preparing for it and the invasion of friends and family takes a toll. There’s a stress test called the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory which is a test that quantifies events in life with stress “points” on a scale of 1 to 100.
At the top of the scale, 100 points is awarded for the loss of a spouse and divorce gets 73. Yet, Christmas garners 12 points which has always surprised me. It seems counter-intuitive to me.
I have always liked the Holmes-Rahe inventory because it is objective. It merely identifies events and gives points and does not attempt to give subjective analysis. If the event happens in your life, you get the points. Period. It doesn’t ask if you liked the event or not. Still, the stress impact of Christmas time cannot be ignored on our families.
Our church has been doing a series of sermons this month around the theme “Be the Gift.” The theme highlights that there are those around us who have difficulty this time of year. The series encourages all to “be the gift” to those around us who are lonely, feeling hopeless or who have no family to support them. We are reminded to reach out to those who have little in life to be “jolly” about.
For example, we can “be the gift” to Teresa Jean Culpepper who is serving a life sentence in a medium security prison in Troy, NC. Or, it could be our Mexican friend, Galdino Garcia, who has been in the United States for 17 years without any family. He has five children in Mexico whom he hasn’t seen in over a decade and one grandchild he has never seen except through pictures.
These are part of our extended family this time of year. We try and reach out to them due to their circumstances. My family now extends to Cameroon where I try and reach out and bring some joy to people who are facing civil unrest in their country.
The challenge here is for you to look around you to those who don’t have anything to be “jolly” about this time of year. Make it a family thing as we do with Galdino. We recently visited Teresa Jean in prison to bring her some cheer, but came away cheered up by her spirits and good humor. You can be the joy in someone else’s life – you can be the joy of the birth of Jesus who is the reason for the season.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Encourage your mentee to “be the gift” to others who have no “jolly” in their lives this Christmas.
FURTHER STUDY: You can find out more about the Holmes-Rahe stress inventory:http://www.stress.org/holmes-rahe-stress-inventory/
WORSHIP: Listen to Casting Crowns sing Joy to the World: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrOlXLeWJQ4
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