I’ve been frequently told that December is the No. 1 month on average for suicides in the United States. It turns out that’s an urban legend and December ranks lower than many months, possibly because those considering self-inflicted injury wish to make it through one more holiday and avoid disrupting the season for family members.
Nevertheless, this particular urban legend is undoubtedly founded on the accurate understanding that December is a difficult, depressing month for many people. While most of us are busy decking halls and wassailing and engaging in all those appropriate seasonal activities, there is a significant minority for whom these dark December days are all the gloomier precisely because the holiday cheer annually eludes them. The causes for their depression are many and varied, yet often they are relational in nature: someone is missing and the observance of Christmas has been marred. That may be due to the death of a spouse, a child, a parent or other significant figures. It might be because such things as distance or divorce have left a void around the table and around the tree.
Certainly there are other tragedies which are at the root of the darkness as well: financial insecurity, loss of employment, uncertainty in regards to the future. All these factors can steal away the possibility of any Christmas cheer.
The gospel writer John in the prelude to his work, a text which is used by liturgical churches as a designated Christmas reading, offers some profound observations. He explains that the “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” He also gets to the heart of the Christian Christmas proclamation when he announces, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
In the midst of darkness and depression, there is light. It’s interesting to note at this point in his narrative John doesn’t say the light has shattered the darkness; he simply explains that in the midst of pain, fear, oppression and confusion, the light endures and cannot be extinguished. The reason for that enduring light is the fact that the Word, the pre-existent presence of God from eternity, took on flesh and entered human history in order to be that light.
John doesn’t offer an account of the manger or the shepherds or the Magi; neither does he tell of a baby who got a raw deal when there was no place for his birth. John’s Christmas message is the assurance that God became one of us in order to be that light.
For those who suffer from depression and loneliness this time of year, the message of Christmas is God’s answer to their pained condition. God has come near for them. Christ was born specifically to address the pain and loss which we all must endure.
The proclamation of that good news may not be sufficient in itself to heal those hurting if all we offer are words. Yet just as the Word became flesh, so are we given the opportunity to give flesh to our words with presence, understanding, empathy and grace. God continues to be light in dark places and often we are the sources of God’s light.
We celebrate with joy and cheer. At the same time, we recognize those for whom cheer is a rare commodity; we give flesh and light to Christmas hope.