It was a sight to behold. My friend had converted her house into a Christmas wonderland. Mini elves and singing reindeer and tinsel adorned every inch of her property. A sea of presents almost engulfed the glittering Christmas tree. I even spied Santa's pudgy legs sticking out of a giant inflatable chimney that sat on her front lawn.
My friend told me that as she was decorating her house she had this nagging feeling that something was missing. So she just kept adding more and more things.
That was, until she realised she wasn't missing more candy canes or a singing Santa. She was actually missing her son. He died a few years ago, and now that missing feeling never leaves my friend.
Christmas can be a difficult time of year.
Christmas is a time when 'abundance rejoices and when want is keenly felt', wrote Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol. I suspect Dickens is right. It is painful when a longing for Christmas joy remains unsatisfied.
I used to think that Christmas was not really worth it. It just adds to people's suffering. Like a modern day Scrooge I wanted to cancel Christmas.
Sure, Christmas for Christians is embedded with deep theological significance. There is that overarching theme of hope. But Christian hope often seems so distant and afterlife orientated; sugar coating the suffering of the here and now.
I mean what about coping with the heartache of Christmas this year? How do those that are hurting find refuge at Christmas? I was doubtful they could.
Then something in me shifted.
I began to think more and more about the Christmas story. The Christmas story that takes me on a journey down a dusty road, to an obscure town called Bethlehem. A town where a poor woman sits holding her baby named Jesus.
It's a story about finding God. And the story tells me that God is not far away. Because God is found...
...with a homeless couple
...with the grubby shepherds
...with the mystical foreign Magi
...with the lonely refugee couple
Through the Christmas story I'm learning that God is with us as we struggle. God is with my friend who is suffering from such a plenary grief. God is so close to her. God surrounds her.
As I was leaving my friend's house that day, she suggested that we spend Christmas together this year. It was a lovely idea. It dawned on me that following God means going to where God is found. It means being with the hurting this Christmas.
To be honest I don't think all this obliterates suffering. I just think that in some small way it does provide comfort. Perhaps, by being together, refuge can be found this Christmas after all.
Danielle Carney lives in Melbourne and has a degree in Christian Theology.
Danielle Carney's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/danielle-carney.html