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Soul Searching

Tom Saretsky


'Tis the season

“Deck the Halls with boughs of holly . . . tis the season to be jolly . . .” (Deck the Halls)

It’s the hap-happiest season of all” (It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year)

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight.
(Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas)

“City sidewalks busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air there is a feeling
of Christmas
Children laughing
People passing
Meeting smile after smile . . .”
(Silver Bells)

There’s a lot to live up to in these Christmas songs. The meaning contained in the lines of these songs suggests (demands?) that at this season, more than any other time of the year, we should be happy and jolly and laughing and smiling; after all, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Apparently there is no excuse not to be happy at this time of year. Scripture would tell to be joyful, because the Messiah, as prophesied in the Old Testament, has been born to deliver us from our sins: “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a saviour, who is Christ the Lord.’ ” God has intervened in human history and now we will take our place among the heavenly host praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace, goodwill to all people.” 

Theologians might express it differently. Sadhu Sundar Singh says, “Out of love God took on a human form. Through this act of love we can now share in the joy of the angels by seeing and knowing God directly.” The German theologian Karl Rahner would say that Christmas is the one day of the year where God gives us permission to be truly happy.

Religiously, commercially and spiritually speaking we cannot be anything but happy. Right? Then why are so many so sad? What gives us the right to despair? Is it because someone took the last Lego set at Wal-Mart and they won’t get another shipment until after Christmas? Is it because we pressure ourselves to find the perfect gift for our friends or family and get sad when we can’t find it or can’t deliver? Is it, also, that Christmas can never live up to its expectations? Or we can’t live up to our expectations in making this Christmas, or any Christmas, the perfect one? Or is it because you are experiencing a first Christmas without a loved one? Maybe there are some who experienced a job loss or an unexpected illness.

The world says one thing, but how we ultimately feel usually reveals something else. My mom always told me, until her dying day, “Never apologize for how you feel.” For some, this Christmas will be difficult. For others, every Christmas is difficult. It’s tough to put on a smiling face and pretend that all is well, when it isn’t. There is so much to conspire against this “most wonderful time of the year.” I would even count myself as one who finds this season difficult. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and my pathological sentimentality of Christmases past include those who are no longer with me: my parents, my father-in-law, deceased aunts and uncles, and friends. I sometimes long for those days, and I do the most reminiscing during December.

This time of year emphasizes sentimentality, nostalgia, tradition and togetherness. Our world isn’t always joyful and sadness and hardship are not suspended just because it’s Christmas time. Unfortunately, for many, the inns of happiness will be full this Christmas, and so they’ll have to look for another dwelling place of joy.

Maybe the best we can do is to settle for a dark and dusty stable — definitely not much — but that’s all God needs to deliver us from our despairs and our depressions. Maybe we will be delivered and maybe, just maybe, a small sign, a small miracle will appear heralding good news announcing that, “hope shall sing its triumph, and sadness flee away.”

“O come, Divine Messiah, the world in silence waits the day,
When hope shall sing its triumph and sadness flee away.
Dear Saviour haste, come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show thy face, and bid us hail the dawn of grace.
O come, Divine Messiah, the world in silence waits the day,
When hope shall sing its triumph, and sadness flee away.”
(O Come, Divine Messiah)

Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Nathan and Jenna.