The Christmas season is officially over. Students are returning to school, people are returning to work, and the popular question for many is “How was your Christmas?”
For me, that’s not always an easy question to answer.
I know the expected responses: “It was busy, but nice!” “It was relaxing.” “Great, but I’m glad to be home again.” The idea that Christmas is a time of peace and joy prompts us all to sum up our end-of-year celebrations with positive statements along those lines.
Except, that’s not always true. And especially since I’m married to a pastor, “peace” is not always an accurate description when I think of Advent and Christmastime. When many professions take a hiatus for the last days of the year, in glaring contrast the schedule of a pastor multiplies in obligations. I know my husband and my family are not alone in this.
In addition to typical parties and festivities, there are extra services to lead, special music to plan, Sunday School services to oversee. More than that, there are the usual tasks of counseling, teaching, and caregiving that don’t take a break for the holiday season. And the funerals. December always seems to have more than its fair share.
Don’t forget to add in family time—or the noticeable lack of family as pastors often serve congregations far from home. Advice to “take a break” is full of good intention, but there are also the weeks when the effort of making time for rest creates stress in itself!
Yes, there is peace during Christmas, but there is also trial when a church family is experiencing conflict. There is joy during Christmas, but there is also sorrow when a beloved parishioner is taking her final breaths.
There is a reason for all this, of course. Pastors and their families experience this roller coaster of emotions because everyone else does too. Yes, that’s right. Because church life is so integrally connected to the people in it, our blessings and burdens are affected by—and reflective of—the blessings and burdens of those in our church family. We know the silent pain of a family trying to enjoy Christmas in spite of broken relationships. We cry with the widow who sings her first candlelight “Silent Night” without her husband at her side. We sigh with the couple who worships the Christ Child as they wait yet another year without a child of their own. We rejoice with the newlyweds who enjoy their first Christmas in their home together. We sing with the preschoolers who finally know all the words to “Joy to the World.” It might be amplified for pastors, who experience so much with (and for) their people, but they aren’t alone. As the Body of Christ, we all share in the pain and loss and the joy and peace of Christmas. We “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
The trees are coming down, and a half-breath after the season comes to an end, there are new things to do and plan and celebrate. As we pray for the pastors who share all of our experiences, let us also thank God for them. Let’s thank them for pointing us to our Savior, who came down into our broken world to bring us peace that surpasses understanding and joy beyond measure.
So, how was my Christmas? No matter what comes each year, I know I have reason to celebrate.