Postcards ordered? Check. Christmas Eve service planned? Check. Decoration team all on board? Check. Congregational Christmas party on the calendar? Check. Elf costume for the vicar tailored? Check. (Ok, maybe not that last one.)
There are many things that go into Christmas, whether it’s in a mission congregation or a well-established one. And with it, comes pressure, perhaps even more so on a young mission. Is “Prospect A” going to show up? Will the hopefully bigger crowd be the catalyst for a new starting point (Bible Information) class in January? Will the business next door to our storefront get robbed again during our Christmas services, sending 16 first-time visitors escaping to the parking lot before their information is gleaned? Will the music be ok? What about the technology? What about…?
With not as many people to shoulder the responsibilities of “doing Christmas” and the high expectations of capitalizing on Christmas, missionaries (both called and lay) may wonder, “Am I going to survive the holidays?” That’s what I was wondering. And then this registration came in,
“My husband committed suicide in July of this year and I am not wanting to celebrate the holidays this year.”
That was the note that came along with a registration for the GriefShare: Surviving the Holidays workshop that Light of the Valleys in Reno, Nev., is hosting this year. Griefshare is nothing too new to our circles. Many ministries have been blessed by this program or something similar. While GriefShare is nothing new to our congregations, grief or “surviving the holidays” is always going to be new to someone every year. Annually, someone will have to get used to an empty chair at the Christmas dinner table, one less person in the gift exchange, and traditions that will never be the same. Annually, someone will say, “I am not wanting to celebrate the holidays this year.”
But we have something to offer. Christmas isn’t just about a baby. It’s about a God who entered into our suffering. It’s about Jesus who came to save us from our sins and subsequently to save us from the effects of sin: death. More than any dressed-up elf spreading holiday cheer or carolers singing, “Fa-la-la,” we have something to help people “survive the holidays.”
That’s what Whitney found out. No, she’s not the one who had a husband commit suicide in July. But she did lose a husband in March. When her family didn’t want her to live alone, she moved 2300 miles west. Close to family, but far away from anything else she knew. But then she saw the GriefShare: Surviving the Holidays ad. With a deep breath, she was the first to open the door that Saturday morning. But it wouldn’t be the only time she would open it. After being comforted by the message and making a connection to another widow on Saturday, Whitney was once again the first one to open the door, but this time on Sunday.
I don’t know if Whitney will be back again. I pray that she will. But I know the message she heard twice in one weekend may not take away the pain or struggles, but it will help her survive the holidays. Fellow missionaries, the same goes for you. It may be a pain or a struggle to “do Christmas” in our settings, but the message we get to share isn’t just meant for the Whitneys of this world. It’s meant for you. It’s meant for me. Because of Jesus, we can survive the holidays.
Written by Joel Heckendorf, home missionary at Light of the Valleys Lutheran Church in Reno Nev.
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