Back in the summer, I shared a post entitled ‘If Your Summer Isn’t Instagram Ready,’ which seemed to resonate with people – so I thought I’d write a Christmas version. Christmas versions of things are always fun, after all.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps ‘fun’ is the last word you’d use to describe your Christmas this year (and possibly, every year). Perhaps all the forced jollity sends you into an even darker place, and you hide in the corner there, sheltering from the sparkle and the tinsel and the Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special. It’s simply too far removed from where you are.
Social media can put even more strain on you at Christmas than at other times of the year, as well. It’s the time when everything has to look perfect. When trees must be finely decorated and tables laden with home-made offerings, and filtered photos of smiling children on Santa’s knee lead the way for how your life should look, too. In reality, though, it is probably more likely that your tree is covered in lovingly made nursery ‘decorations’ and Poundland tat, thrown at it by excitable children (and cynical teenagers, in my case). Your table is laden with Tesco Value Mince Pies and Aldi Stollen, and the mulled wine comes from Asda (you could add your own apple and orange slices for authenticity, as I like to do). Your photos of children with Santa are blurred images of crying toddlers running away from the scary man, or sick children sharing their misery with the world. Then you scroll through your feed and sigh: you’ve not been good enough, again. You’ve not done Christmas right.
Or it might be even more than that. You might feel far removed from the images you see because your life is far removed from what is seen as ideal. You might be long-term sick, like me, or be caring for a partner or child who is sick or disabled, a child who will never sit on Santa’s knee. You might be single, and long for someone to share the season with, as all the TV adverts tell you you should. Or you might long for a child, and all the pictures of little ones enjoying Christmas slice at your wounded heart.
The seasonal ‘shoulds’ make our perceived lacks stand out so much more starkly: We should be healthy and beautiful. We should have fulfilling careers that still leave us with good work-life balances. We should have homes that are so well lit they might as well be landing beacons for Santa and his reindeers. We should have a perfect family situation.
All the Shoulds.
But the Shoulds don’t leave room for the realities. They don’t leave room for the grief and the pain, or even just the nitty-gritty of life. They don’t leave room for a person who is struggling with depression or for families where relationships have broken down. And that’s because the Shoulds are not enough. They don’t fill the void in us, the great gap which is always crying out for more. They don’t address the hunger at the heart of us.
Even when we are, to all intents and purposes, getting things ‘right’ at Christmas – when our Christmas is Insta-ready – it isn’t enough, is it. The so-called perfection leaves us cold and restless, because what may look like perfection isn’t actually perfection at all. It’s a pale imitation of something we yearn for, something we know in the depths of us is what we are made for. Christmas often highlights this sense of longing even more starkly because of all of the striving around us to do it well, to be better, to attain to that peace on earth the carols talk about. All the lights piercing the darkness of winter point to something more, something that blazes through our consciousness and calls us further up and further in.
I wrote this little poem on Advent Sunday, trying to capture something of this sense of yearning:
in the dark
An anticipation of the exhilaration
Of our adoration
Of glory wrapped in dust.
Our wait so cold as stone
Yet draped in breathless hope
In churning restlessness
And aching brokenness
A star still blazes bright
Further up and
We wait for dawning light
I wanted to express something of the truth that the anticipation around Christmas points to. Because even though our lives are so often heavy with aching brokenness, we are creatures who are draped with hope, because of this one baby born into weakness and scorn, a baby who would be the one to deliver us from our own darkness into a light and hope so glorious it cannot be contained in words. If your Christmas is not Instagram ready, do not be afraid, for tidings of great joy are here and are with you and for you, and it’s not a joy based on images of faux perfection, but an authentic joy borne in the truth of a two thousand year old story which has captured hearts and transformed lives through history, and never stops doing so.
Do not be afraid, because these images and narratives and Shoulds are not important. This incredible Christmas story leads us to something different, to a certainty that we don’t have to have lives that look a certain way to find wholeness and fulfilment. We don’t have to fit the Insta-norm to find rest for our souls, because we find that in a counter-cultural, upside-down narrative of the first being last and the last being first, of the broken being made beautiful and the lonely being placed in families. We find it in a messy birth story and some startled shepherds. We find it in a cross.
Listen to the great yearning and be glad, because it is there in you for a reason, to draw you into the beauty of faith and the knowledge of God. Know that the light shines in your darkness, and your darkness has not – and will not – overcome it. Be assured that the great light shines brighter than any other light, and leads you to a place of freedom – even when darkness seems to prevail. Know that a messy Christmas isn’t bad, it is human and it is real. Embrace the mess, hold on to hope and come further up and further in.
We don't have to fit the Insta-norm to find rest for our souls, because we find that in a counter-cultural, upside-down narrative of the first being last and the last being first. Click To Tweet All the lights piercing the darkness of winter point to something more, something that blazes through our consciousness and calls us further up and further in. Click To Tweet
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.Isaiah 9:2