"Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned." (Matthew 4:15-16 NRSV)
The modern celebration of Christmas owes quite a bit to Charles Dicken’s short novel: A Christmas Carol. Everyone’s familiar with the iconic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, the grumpy miser, who undergoes a change of heart and is reborn on Christmas day. But also important is the unsung hero of the story: Bob Cratchit. If you think about it, Bob has plenty of reasons to be depressed and discouraged. He has to work on Christmas Eve, and barely gets Christmas Day off. He scrapes out a living, and can’t even afford a decent meal for his family on Christmas Day. He has six kids, and they aren’t going to have many, if any, presents to open on Christmas morning. One of his children, Tiny Tim, has serious and expensive health issues (with no health insurance) and the child may not live much longer. And Bob works for one of the worst bosses ever, in a stressful and cold job, where he’s undervalued and over worked. Bob has an amazingly bad life, and yet, with all these reasons to be depressed and discouraged, Christmas still blesses and enriches his life.
Christmas is for the Bob Cratchet’s of the world: people who are having a difficult time with life. As Matthew puts it, quoting Isaiah 9:2: the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned. Christmas is for people sitting in darkness; people living in the region of death. In Matthew’s day, these words were spoken to a demoralized nation living under the cruel and oppressive rule of Rome. These people “who sat in darkness” are the kind of people we sometimes refer to as being “down in the dumps.” And the hopeful words in Matthew reminded them, and us, that the birth of Jesus is especially for these hurting folk.
Jesus comes to those having a rough time. He is a light shining for those who grieve the death of a loved one, those struggling to make ends meet, those who are sick, those who battle anxiety and depression. Jesus comes for the people who have the cards stacked against them, those who are on the outside, rejected and abandoned. Christmas is primarily for people who are anything but “successful” by the world’s standards.
Ironically, the people for whom the gift of Jesus was most given are often the people who have the roughest time with the Christmas season. Many people experience this time of year as an annoying and distressing distraction. So I think it’s time for the dump-dwellers of the world to unite and reclaim the holiday! Don’t let the happy plastic people hijack your Christmas, or define its meaning for you.
If you’re sad and depressed, if you’re anxious and hurting, if you’re having a rough time, Christmas is your holiday! Go ahead and claim it.
Of course, there is still darkness in the world, and many continue to live in the shadow of death. Christmas doesn’t make the problems disappear. But it does remind us that we don’t live in total despair. There is a light shining. The light is in Jesus. And this light brings us hope and grace so we can rise above the problems and pain of life. The light shines, even down in the dumps, and it’s there that we can best see it beauty.
So “Merry Christmas” to those sitting in darkness. Christmas is for all of us, but it’s especially for you.