by Rev. Peter Friedrichs
It’s customary at this time of year for ministers (myself included) to write their monthly newsletter columns about the joy and magic of the season. About how the lights of Hanukah and Christmas restore our childlike sense of wonder, and how the babe in the manger is a symbol of hope for a better world. Some of us (myself included) sometimes take this opportunity to rail against the evils of the so-called Christmas Machine that urges us to spend ourselves into oblivion, assuring us that having more will make us, and our partners, spouses and children, happier and more loving.
I’m taking a little different approach this year.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I want all of us to have the merriest of holiday seasons, to celebrate time together with family and friends, and to offer up tokens of our love and appreciation for those closest to us. It’s a time of year that’s rich in tradition and joy.
At the same time, I feel called to remind us that the holidays are not necessarily merry and bright for all of us. This time of year can be challenging, even life threatening, for many: Those whose family members live far away and those who have no family with whom to celebrate. Those who have lost loved ones in the recent, or even not-so-recent, past. Those whose family history is complex and whose holiday memories are layered with anger, depression, even violence. Those who are struggling throughout the year with mental health difficulties, challenges that are often exacerbated during this season. Those who are unemployed, underemployed or at risk of losing their jobs and who desperately wish that they had a few extra dollars to lavish on their loved ones, but dare not. Those who simply suffer physically and mentally from the loss of sunlight in this, the darkest time of the year.
We have institutional responses to some of these concerns.
Our Adopt-a-Family program offers us a way to help the financially challenged celebrate a joyous holiday. Our annual “Longest Night” service (scheduled for Dec. 19 this year) supports those who are able to attend. But as people of compassion, it’s our responsibility to reach out to anyone we think might be at risk, or who might be lonely, during the holidays.
One of the most challenging parts of being a member of a community is noticing who’s not around. I invite you this month to pay particular attention to that. Whom haven’t you seen lately? Who among us do you know is housebound or unable to get to church? I invite you to take it upon yourself to pick up the phone and check in with someone who’s “among the missing.” Maybe stop by for a visit, or even take them out to lunch. What a wonderful holiday gift that would be!
Our community is only as strong as the connections we make and maintain between each other. In this holiday season, let us draw one another closer, especially those who may be living at the margins.
From December 2013 Focus
(Photo by Cole Jurceka)