Christmas Gloom and the Wonderful Counselor
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish . . . The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone . . . For to us a child is born . . . and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor . . . (Isaiah)
“Gloom.” Not exactly the first word that comes to mind at Christmas time, is it?
But, it was for the prophet Isaiah. And frankly, I’m glad.
For many souls (and many more than will admit it), Christmas can often be more gloom than sparkle. Memories of lost loved ones, hurts from the past year, broken friendships, and exhausting obligations seem to be sharper, and painful, this time of year.
I think I began to experience how much I needed this perspective on the Christmas story in 1995.
My mom asked me to set the dinner table Christmas day. It was a rare duty, but she was busy with cornish hens, and cornbread dressing, and green bean casseroles. So, I obliged.
In our home, Christmas had its own dishes for some reason - white, bone China in swirling golden trim and perfect little Christmas trees etched in the center of each plate. A satin, red table-runner held down by two silver candlesticks divided the table; green, quilted placemats completed our festive ensemble.
It had been eight months since my older brother had died in a car wreck.
Somehow, I’d forgotten - not in the amnesiac, or indifferent sense of forgetting - but in the sense that life had returned to normal after months of agonizing heartbreak, pain, grief, and bitterness.
Our family was finally breathing again.
And then it happened. Without realizing, I’d placed a plate on the table for my deceased brother — at “his seat,” in “his place,” where we’d grown accustomed seeing him struggle to eat our grandma’s English peas and pearl onions, and the seat where he’d always ask for another one of Sister Schubert’s rolls; where from his “spot,” he’d figured out the exact striking distance between the toe of his shoe and my shin.
And that’s when it hit me — and by “it,” I mean the tear-bursting, falling to the knees, uncontrollable, groan of angry pain that alarmed everyone in the house and drew them into the dining room.
I finally realized the unavoidable — my brother was not coming home for Christmas - ever!
We carried on with our family meal. Mama had labored, and it was Christmas after all. But everyone at our table ate with dazed glares, each swept away from the shore of the moment by swirling currents of reflection, and battered by cataracts of disbelief and numbness.
I love Christmas; but I have loved it less ever since.
If you’ve made it this far into my story, chances are you too share similar experiences of Christmas. For those of us who grieve at Christmas, seasonal festivities can often stir our hurts deeper.
Of course we know that Christmas is about the light of the world, Jesus, coming into the darkness. We know the darkness cannot overcome it. But some of us can forget, and often feel the darkness is having its way.
If you, or if you know someone, walking in “gloom” this Christmas, please remember two things: (1) You are not alone. There are many of us. (2) Christmas is always the perfect season to recall that Jesus at least put “himself on the hook” of loss and suffering. We can never accuse God of “not getting us” by taking the easy way out.
One of the titles Jesus is given in Isaiah’s masterful work is “Wonderful Counselor,” or “Counselor of wonders.” As you would share your grief, pain, hurt, and loneliness with a counselor, consider this year sharing it with THE one counselor who requires no referral, no insurance, and no medication.
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