That joyous time of the year is upon us. Beginning irritatingly early, as usual, the bells reverberate wherever we go. The brown and orange of fall are gradually replaced by the crimson and green in festive displays.
I heard a pre-Christmas sermon from Dr. Bruce Morgan, Pastor Emeritus at First Baptist Church here in Griffin years ago that stayed with me because it has such a powerful message. He painted one of his word pictures of the orchestra playing the music of the season, reaching through the air with a message of joy and hope. He admonished, however, that if you listen closely enough, through all of the bells, horns, violins, cellos, and percussion, you may hear the singular melancholy song of the French horn.
The truth of that message is that in the midst of great celebration, someone is likely in mourning. Somewhere there is depression. Despair, depression and hopelessness can be found if we listen intently enough. If you do not listen so intently, of course, all you hear is joy. It takes an effort and sensitivity to find something so subtle, but pain and sorrow are part of the total symphony of life.
A study at the University of California found that there are more cardiac deaths on Christmas day than any other day of the year among people not already in the hospital. The second-highest was the day after Christmas, and the third highest was New Year’s Day itself. As maddening as it may be for survivors, loved ones have a tendency to rain on holiday parades by exiting this life, sometimes changing a holiday into a sad or bitter anniversary.
Why is that? Why, in the midst of such celebration, is there also such loss? The answer is multifactorial. Where there is happiness, there is also stress. There is overeating, lack of rest, exertion, and strain on relationships. All of these things take a toll on even healthy people.
The days are shorter this time of the year, too. Less sunlight will have an impact on the biochemistry of the brain, and some people experience depression as a result. It is actually treated with light exposure. By the way, there is something deeply spiritual in this (“I am the Light of the world…”).
This brings me to my friend, Brent. He lost his parents early last year about a month apart. This is his first major holiday season without them. He is an only child, and his closest relatives are all senior citizens. Because he was a caretaker for both parents during extended illnesses, he has been socially isolated for quite some time. Now he faces this joyous season truly alone. He is one of the French horns I hear amidst the happy orchestra of the season.
My point with this discussion is to extend Dr. Morgan’s admonition to us all. In a season of celebration marked with happiness, some among us find intensified loneliness after the loss of someone or the loss of a relationship. This is not to lessen the joy of the season for anyone, but to make joy more complete by reaching out to those in need.
During this happy season we anticipate celebrations of the birth of the Savior, the Christ child who made all the difference in this world and the next, whose birth is the anchor of history, and whose promised return is the essence of Christian hope. In all of the happiness, the noise, the hectic schedules, the parties, and the quiet moments, listen. Look around you for the French horns. You may not change their tunes, but they need to be heard and touched with reassurance.
“You have turned my mourning into dancing…”—King David, Psalm 30:11