G.K. Chesterton tells a story about a young boy who goes out to sit on a hill and draw with pieces of chalk on a scrap of brown paper. The boy is initially excited, but then frustrated upon realizing he has forgotten the piece he thinks most important—the white chalk. He mulls in frustration for a short time, then erupts into laughter as it dawns upon him that the hill he sits on is itself made entirely of white chalk. I see a profound picture of Christmas in Chesterton’s story.
It’s easy to forget in the midst of Christmas festivities that, for many, Christmas will not be so festive this year. For a lot of people, this will be the first Christmas after losing a spouse or child. Others will experience Christmas as spectators, watching the world around them celebrate, as they would love to do if only they still had, or just once could have, the wealth necessary for a Christmas celebration. For some, every holiday song, every advertisement and decoration only serves as an amplifier of pain: “There’ll be no need to go across town to his favorite store this year,” so the Christmas-sale ad seems to say to the widow. “This is how most people (except you) enjoy Christmas shopping,” says the mall commercial to the minimum-wage-earning, single mom of three. And what a heart-stab every mention of Christmas toys must be to those who have lost a child. There are many—very many—who watch all of Christmas as orphans watch through the orphanage window as families play across the street.
From this it is extremely tempting to give up our cheer and take a view that is more “mature,” a levelheaded view that pulls our head out of the clouds, sobers us with the “real world,” and prevents us from getting caught up in all the childish Christmas hype. But such a view is shortsighted to say the least.
Before I go any further, please don’t take this as some muddle-headed attempt to counter deep pain with trite Bible clichés. Make no mistake; pain hurts. But one can either hurt in hope or hurt in despair, all depending on the level of insight and faith.
I said to lose cheer is tempting but shortsighted, because to do so is to stop and turn around within sight of the finish line. As dark as many situations may seem, the light is ironically close. The remedy to the pain evoked in so many by Christmas celebrations can only be had in looking past the celebrations to their source. If shiny tinsel and lights and family dinners are really all Christmas is about, hurting, lonely people have little hope.
But what (rather who) lies at the very bedrock of all the Christmas cheer? It is the Father, the Lover, the one who ultimately defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow. The great irony is, in many people, loneliness and pain are intensified by the commemoration of the coming of the only One who can cure our loneliness and pain. Those whose pain is aggravated by Christmas are in a situation much like a man stranded on a desert island who is irritated when the island’s silence is broken by the foghorn of a rescue ship. With Chesterton’s story in mind, Christmas makes us aware that no matter how bad we are hurting, we sit on a hill of white chalk.