Standing in the checkout line, I overheard the young cashier tell a customer that she was soon going home, which would thrill her three-year-old son. Earlier that morning, her little boy begged her not to leave. She said, "I asked him, ‘Do you want Christmas to come or not?' He said yes. So I told him, ‘Then I have to go to work.'"
As I walked out the door, I wondered, "Did she really think Christmas would not come for her son if she did not go to work?" In the sense of having presents under the tree, perhaps it would not. But don't we understand that Christmas is more than presents?
Even the Grinch learned that Christmas still comes without presents. "It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"
Some of us still stumble when trying to celebrate Christmas without making it about the presents. Nor is it about the decorations, Christmas cards, or cookies. It is not the parties or stress of trying to keep up with others' expectations.
For others, it is hard to find joy in Christmas because of pain and heartache. Depression, grief, and loneliness intensify during December. Some are hurting because a loved one is not home but serving in a war. Some parents cannot afford many, if any, presents for their children but instead worry about food and heat. Others are grieving for those who have died.
There are people who think they cannot experience joy at Christmas because of their pain. But that's not right. Christians celebrate Christmas to remember that Jesus came to save a world in need. God sent His Son to heal those who are hurting. In our songs, we sing wonderful counselor, prince of peace, and joy to the world. These are promises for healing and comfort. Christmas is for those who are hurting.
So who dressed up Christmas as a holiday only for those who can afford it? Christmas is not on layaway waiting for people to pay off the bill. The price has been paid.
Who decided that some people do not belong on the guest list? Too often, those who are hurting get this message: "There is no room for you."
We steal the joy of Christmas from others—and ourselves—when we put the emphasis on material things and outward appearances. Christmas is not about those who can buy the biggest presents. It is not about the most decorated house or the tastiest cookies.
Christmas is praying that one day there will be peace on Earth. Christmas is sharing what you have with those who have less.
Christmas is reaching out to others who are hurting. Christmas is knowing that someone cares about you.
How do you include those who hurt? Ask people if they'd like to talk about their loss or struggles. Then make an effort to listen without trying to fix everything or take the pain away. Be with people where they are hurting and let them know they are wanted, even if grief or pain comes along.
Many people already find joy outside the box. But if you need ideas, consider taking part in a service project.
Ring the bell for the Salvation Army.
Give warm coats and mittens to shelters.
Donate to charities in honor of a loved one.
Send a care package to someone serving in the military.
Teach children (and adults) the joy in giving homemade presents or gifts of service.
Sing carols at a nursing home.
Spend time with someone who is grieving.
Seek out those who are alone and invite them to your family gatherings.
Do not mistake me for the Grinch. I'm not trying to steal all the trees, stockings, and wreaths. There is room for festive parties, and even gifts with ribbons and bows. But if those who are suffering do not feel comfortable at our gatherings, or are not even invited, then we all fall short. This Christmas, make room for those who are hurting.