Two days before Christmas my nan died. Three years ago (I had to ring my mum to check and ended up making us both cry. Sorry mum x) and yet I still remember the phone call, early that morning. And, as I just found out, it still has the ability to make us cry.
She was 83. She’d been in hospital for four months. And she got to celebrate Christmas with my Grandad so we totally knew it was the best thing for her.
And yet still we cried.
I really wanted to write a Christmas post. One that wished you a happy Christmas, with echoes of all the nice stuff that surrounds the day. The fun and laughter and excitement. Because I love Christmas.
And I still want to do that, wish you a happy Christmas I mean, but I couldn’t sit here and ignore the people who are hurting, pretend like it isn’t happening. It just felt wrong.
But neither do I want to pretend like I know how they’re feeling.
My nan was 83. Yes it was sad and yes, it came as a shock (despite having said goodbye to her multiple times) but she was an old lady. An old lady with no real quality of life left. She missed her husband desperately and she was ready to leave us.
I don’t want to even try to imagine how those families in Newtown are feeling because it makes me cry. Or April Jones’s mum and dad. Or any one of the other thousands of parents who have lost children.
Because three years after my nan died, we’re doing great. Sure, my mum and I got choked up just now but that’s just what we do. I can’t honestly say I think about my nan on a daily basis. It’s probably different for my mum because she was her mum but even so, I’m pretty confident in saying she has days when she doesn’t think about her mum at all.
But when a child dies it’s different. It’s just wrong. It’s not how it’s meant to be.
And yes, the shootings in Newtown have made us all a little more aware and sensitive to the hurt this year, even those of us who, thankfully, are in no way connected with events.
But every year, any year, even when there’s nothing horrendous enough to grab the media’s attention, there are thousands of people who have an awful time at Christmas. They can’t wait for it to be over and they would gladly hibernate for the whole of December.
Even people who aren’t missing loved ones can have a pretty crappy time of it.
If you can guarantee one thing it’s that keeping the whole family cooped up together for a couple of days is going to lead to at least one bust up! And that’s not to mention all the stress and last minute panic buying, spending money we don’t have on stuff they don’t need.
Talk about depressing!
So why do we bother? With less and less people being interested in the Christ part of Christmas, why haven’t we knocked it on the head yet?
Of course that would never happen. I don’t know who would shout loudest … the Christian community or the retail industry! Christmas is an institution. It’s just what we do.
And yet underneath it all, when you strip away the consumerism and the over-eating, what are you left with?
Ultimately it’s about people.
God and people. And people and people.
God loves people and so Jesus came along and, well you know how the rest of that goes. Christmas is like an extra chance for God to break through the busy and remind you that he loves you.
And, despite all the noise and the chaos and the quarrels over who said what to whom and why, Christmas is about spending time with people we love, and who love us. It’s a shared moment. A chance to step out from the regular day-to-day busyness of life and just be, together.
And of course that’s why it’s also a really tough time of year for a lot of people.
Because life is messy and those idyllic scenes portrayed in too many adverts on the telly, showing us how it should be, when our real life stuff doesn’t match up, it can leave us feeling cheated or wondering what’s so wrong with us that we can’t do the perfect Christmas gig that everyone else is doing.
But here’s the thing … life isn’t a TV commercial. Life is messy.
There is no one out there having the perfect family Christmas (no matter how much your friends on Facebook with their charming photos of their happy smiling kids will tell you) because such a thing does not exist.
Even two thousand odd years ago, it was probably less a case of ‘Silent night, Holy night’ and more a case of ‘argh, Joe, I’ve got to push and there is no way I’m gonna do that outside!!” And those shepherds that rolled up to offer their congratulations? Back in the day, they were considered the lowest of the low. Really dirty and noisy.
It actually makes me feel a whole let better about my noisy, messy family to know that God chose to have his son stroll into the world via a poor, unmarried teenage mum. I mean, it’s not like there weren’t any palaces nearby. But no, that wasn’t God’s way.
Shepherds. Unmarried mums. Born in a shed. And later, fishermen, prostitutes and thieves.
If there is one thing that I believe about God, it’s that he does messy.
So if you’re reading this and you’re hurting, please know that I’m sending you the biggest (messiest!) hug I possibly can. I’m very aware that that is in danger of sounding trite because I don’t know how you’re feeling. I don’t understand. I’m not where you are right now, dealing with all that you are dealing with.
But God needs someone to tell you that he loves you, that he’s holding you, even as you’re stood there in the shit. Correction: he’s holding you because you’re stood there in the shit. And it might as well be me.
And for the rest of us, as we look forward to our very human, messy Christmas, if we’re fortunate enough to be one of those families who aren’t nursing hurt and sadness this year, let’s take at least one moment to stop and breathe, to hug the people we love and to say thank you.
Because yes, life is messy, but it all starts to look a lot better through smile-tinted glasses.
And so I wish you the happiest and messiest of Christmases. May your laughter be louder than the telly and your heart fuller than your wine glass. Here’s to a happy Christmas and I can’t wait to share the next twelve months with you!