December — joyful and challenging

December Calendar. Image courtesy of Marco Verch. Used under a CC BY 2.0 Deed license.
By 
 on December 1, 2023

We are at the opening of the Christian year, a time of reflection in Advent, of joy and celebration at Christmas and entering into a new year of commemoration of God’s plan and act of redemption. For many, December also can be a challenging period, if only from a secular perspective. Christians live in both worlds of course and are subject to the same pressures and expectations as anyone else.

As children, we look forward to presents on Christmas morning. We may be happy about being the centre of attention, or we may be disappointed that we didn’t get gifted with all the things we hoped for.

As young people we might shift our attention to partying with friends and neighbours more than the expectations of Christmas morning.

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As adults, we are faced with preparing a bountiful few days in our own home, entertaining friends and family, and maybe even assessing how we compare with the provision others make for their families. Many reach out to the wider community, helping the marginalized and isolated.

As my husband and I got older, Christmas became less about decorations, gifts, feasting and gathering with friends, and more about God becoming flesh. The glitz and glam of the season faded a bit into the background, and the Christian focus on Advent and the appearance of God on earth became more prominent.

So many factors can dampen our observance of this holiday season — our finances, absent family members, distant friends, illness, job loss, social pressures and so forth; in fact all the challenges that can crop up at any time of the year. As Charles Dickens writes in his novella A Christmas Carol: “(Christmas) is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.”

A Christmas Carol is my favourite story of the season. For me, it has all the components of good story telling — the range of human experience, heros/anti-heros, memorable snippets, ghosts, kindness, misery and ultimately, redemption. I often think that if Scrooge can do a 180 in his beliefs and behaviour, then there is hope for all of us!

While we all can think of real people who have had this major turn-around, one of the most famous examples is John Newton. He left the slave trade in the 1700s to become an abolitionist and priest, and he is best known for writing the popular hymn Amazing Grace (for more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazing_Grace). The New Testament, of course, is replete with examples of conversion, the most well-known of which is probably Saint Paul himself. As well, we have the Roman Emperor Constantine. And don’t forget, through the centuries, many Christians, like Saint Francis of Assisi, were called from a dissolute life into God’s service.

This material world is full of great blessings and joy. Our best antidote to the disappointments and trauma that also exist is to focus on God’s plan for us as celebrated in this Christmas season by God’s becoming flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Regardless of our circumstances, I think that the most important thing we can do is to be kind — to ourselves, to our loved ones and to everyone we meet along the way.

I wish you great blessings for a joy-filled Christmas.

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  • Cathy Carphin

    Cathy Carphin is a parishioner of St Peter and St Paul, Esquimalt. She is a Certified Grief Educator, facilitator, mentor, writer and poet. She can be reached via email for healing discussions about grief, trauma and loss.

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