Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Blues

The other day one of Australia's pre-eminent Christian musicians lamented "There are so few of us left". The feelings of despondency was akin to the complaint of Elijah (1 Kings 19:14) when he felt all alone, that there were no strong people of God left.

Of course, feelings are notoriously unreliable, and God had to remind Elijah that not only was he not alone, but there were 7000 others whom God had his hand on, and spurred Elijah on to get on with his work for God.

Feelings of alienation and loneliness can be amplified when you are in the company of those who are feeling joyous, happy and in the mood to celebrate. Those of us who get melancholy, or even depressed can find seasons like Christmas a real trial. With the public urging of 'goodwill to all men', and the tinsel cheerfulness of a holiday season in full swing, the advertisements full of happy glowing families and couples, the expectation that you too will be cheerful can be an overwhelming pressure.

And if you are a Christian, the fact that you would rather run a mile from the 'happy happy joy' crowd can make you feel like a fraud, a fake, a failure. You cringe at the idea of being in a group of laughing chattering optimists, so you avoid meetings, ignore invitations to events and stay well clear of anything that smells like a party. And you wonder, in self condemnation, "What's wrong with me?".

You are not alone in wanting to crawl into your shell and be alone at these times, you aren't the first to feel bereft of friendship, happiness, help and understanding. David wrote whole Psalms of abject loneliness and despair (Psalm 38, Psalm 88) with no light shining at the end of the tunnel, no nice happy ending. David knew times where he felt utterly alone and hopeless. 

Yet David also knew the truth of a God who would not leave him to the darkness, no matter what his feelings were like. David knew the difference between the feelings of despair and the truth of God's love for him.

All well and good for David, but what about us?

We are taught in the Bible that Jesus was our substitute sacrifice, taking the punishment of our sin on the cross, and freeing us from the wrath of God, bringing us into a new relationship, where God saw us as righteous through Christ. Yet there is more! 

Consider the loneliness that Jesus experienced. His followers, who had sworn black and blue to stick with him even to death, had all turned tail and run. There was no comforting words or presence during his torture and trial, no softening of the horror of the crucifixion, and when Jesus was at the depth of his torment, he felt the worst abandonment of all, crying out "My God, why have YOU forsaken me?"

Christ went through the ultimate loneliness in his time of trial and need so that we never have to. Consider the promises that Jesus will 'never leave you or forsake you' (Hebrews 13:5), and 'The Father will give you another helper, that he may be with you forever' (John 14:16). These promises are real, and to be relied on much more than our feelings. 

All the punishment that our inbuilt sin had coming to it has been enacted on Jesus, and there is not a jot left for us to bear. We are now fully and completely in God's family and care, safe in the work of atonement made by Jesus. Feelings may come and go, but God's truth is what we can count on.