In 1957, Elvis Presley released the song “Blue Christmas” in which he crooned “You’ll be doin’ alright with your Christmas of white but I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas.” Elvis is not the only one who has experienced a blue Christmas. Counselors and researchers have long noted that the Christmas season is associated with sadness, depression, even to the point of suicide, for many, many people. Perhaps you don’t need Elvis or psychiatrists to tell you that the yuletide season can be an occasion for sadness rather than joy. You have your own tale of heartache amidst the mistletoe and madness of our most popular holiday. There is an odd conflict of axioms at Christmas. Is it the “hap, hap, happiest season of all” or a blue Christmas for you?
The Apostle Paul writes some words of encouragement out of his own life experience (Philippians 3:12-14) that can provide an antidote for a blue Christmas, or, for that matter, a blue life. Follow these steps.
1. Formulate a healthy perspective
Paul says, “Not that I have attained … or am already perfect.” That’s quite an admission for one who saw the risen Christ personally and specially, who had a supernatural trip to the highest heaven, who performed miracles, and who penned the inerrant word of God. Yet, he understood that his life on earth was not going to be perfect.
We can take a cue. Formulate a healthy, realistic expectation of what life, including Christmas, can and cannot provide. The truth about your life is that you are not going to get all the toys you want and the ones you do get are likely to break. You will not achieve all the goals you have dreamed of. You will be disappointed. Everyone will not like you. People will be critical, mean, and cruel. Your friends will betray you. Someone you love will suffer injury or illness, perhaps even leading to their premature death. You will experience setbacks financially, professionally, and relationally. You will face illness-sometimes serious illness. And all of us are marching toward our oh-so-certain death. You may respond, “Sheesh! No wonder I’m depressed!”
But recognizing the truth about our less-than-perfect existence can keep us from unrealistic expectations. Psychotherapist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote, “As long as you believe life is something to be enjoyed rather than a task you’ve been assigned, you will never be happy.”
“This Christmas, remember: the Christmas story can bring eternal joy; the Christmas season can’t.”
2. Forget a hurtful past
“Forgetting those things which are behind…” Paul had some hurtful things to forget- cruelty from enemies, betrayal by friends, and his own awful sins against God and the embryonic church. The Woman Who Can’t Forget is a book about Jill Price’s experience with her rare condition called hyperthymestic syndrome. She can remember with comprehensive and exacting detail every minute of her life. Is this a gift or an affliction? After all, there are some things we need to forget.
Many of you have memories of horrible events. Parents who should have taken care of you, abused you. Spouses who pledged fidelity have abandoned you. And, then, there are all of our self-inflicted regrets. I do not mean to minimize your pain or suggest overly simple solutions to complex problems. But a positive step in defeating the blues could be to forget a hurtful past.
3. Focus on hearty performance
Twice in these three verses, Paul says I press on. He doesn’t say I mosey on or I meander on. He meets the negatives of life with intentional, purposeful, forceful action. Someone has identified the hallmarks of depression as sitting, silence, and self. These are the sibilants of the Serpent. They aggravate your sadness and send you into a death spiral. So, the antidote? Action, talking, and others. Are you worried about a blue, blue Christmas? Get dressed. Get out of the house. Find someone else to encourage and to help. It just may be that you are the one that is helped the most.
4. Find a heavenly purpose
“I press on toward…the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” This is Paul’s most far reaching step. All of life’s troubles are subsumed when we are consumed with knowing Christ and serving him. There are many reasons why Christians might become blue this Christmas. Added to all the exigencies of life mentioned above is the profound rebellion we see in our world (think terror, the collapse of sexual ethics, the carnage of abortion, to name a few). Therefore, we must remember heaven’s purpose. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
One of the most urbane and articulate professors that taught me theology had this rather colloquial assertion about the Advent: “Christmas is big stuff!” It is indeed. God’s unspeakable gift of Christ at Christmas has chased all the blues away.