“Merry Christmas and a happy new year from our family to yours!”
“Christmas ham, Christmas turkey, prawns and a mango salad! Hope you’re having a wonderful time this holiday season!”
“It’s been a tricky year, but we’re so thankful to be able to gather; we hope your new year is filled with blessings!”
We used to receive holiday letters, personalised ‘Seasons Greetings’ cards with a printed family photo, or a holiday email: ’70s matching outfits, to ’80s big hair, ’90s painted backdrops and 2000s Microsoft Paint.
Messages are gifts … they remind us that we are remembered.
Today our ‘Seasons Greetings’ come via a digital photo in Facebook or Instagram—or maybe a message over SMS or messenger. It’s nice to receive these messages, no matter how long or short. Messages are gifts—external expressions of another person’s thoughts—and they can remind us that we are remembered. And being remembered is a powerful thing. We fight to be remembered, to be known and seen, because memory is meaning and life.
Memories, and how we arrange them, shape our inner lives: our lives are auto (self) bio (life) graphies (narratives). We narrate our past to ourselves and so give meaning to our present and direction to our future. For some who have a traumatic past, part of therapy can be re-narrating deeply entrenched beliefs of the self by viewing past memories from another perspective (narrative).
Other people’s memories and commentaries on our lives are also important. I’ve been getting into TV legal dramas recently and have been fascinated by how unjust the deliberate mis-narrating of events can be. To be misremembered is to disrespect and bring about potential harm.
To be remembered by God is beautiful. To be (treated as) forgotten by God is terrifying.
Memory is central to our gospel hope too. The thief on the cross asks Jesus to “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Lk 23:42) This stranger, who barely knew Jesus, somehow understood enough to pin his hopes on being remembered by Jesus.
The opposite is also true. It is terrifying when Jesus says:
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you…’ (Matt 7:21-23)
To be remembered by God is beautiful. To be (treated as) forgotten by God is terrifying. Divine memory is meaning and life for humanity.
Forgotten at Christmas
Coming back to holiday seasons, perhaps that’s part of the reason why it feels so valuable for us to be remembered with an invitation, a gift, a card, or even just a text—because the opposite is forgottenness.
Receiving a gift that didn’t meet our expectations can be disappointing —because we may feel forgotten.
Sitting at the table and being asked the same annual questions, “Are you married yet?” “When will you get a raise?” may feel disappointing – because we only exist as another’s expectations, not as our current realities.
The kindness of another’s invitation, “you don’t have a place for Christmas? Come to ours! We can always make space,” may be bittersweet, with both gratitude and yearning, because though there is now space, there was no natural space to begin with. And next year’s space is once more contingent on an invitation.
Will we be remembered next year? Will we be remembered in another’s life? Will we belong? As John Swinton wisely observes, to belong, one needs to be missed.
For those who are united to Christ, even if we are forgotten by others (or by ourselves, as we age); even if our legacies are worn away by the sands of time, we are still remembered by God.
God does not, and eternally cannot, leave us or forsake (forget) us (Deut 31:6). He thought of us before time began when he chose us and predestined us (Eph 1:5). We existed in the memory of Jesus as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (John 18:20-24). We were remembered in the atonement; remembered in the resurrection. We are still remembered as Christ sits in glory, interceding for us (Rom 8:34). We will be remembered as our names are read out in the Book of Life (Rev 3:5, 20:12).
To be remembered is a theological reality, but theological realities may not immediately turn into personal comfort. Jesus had to continually comfort his followers with these reminders, just as the writers of the epistles had to constantly encourage the early churches.
Such truths need repetition so they can become comforts. Children might know that their parents love them, but when they are in pain, they need to hear it again. Loved ones know that they love one another, yet they speak the words “I love you” before going to work and bed.
As those called to have the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5), we need to be live as Christ does. If Christ remembers those who do not belong, so should we.
We have all had some experience of isolation over the last few years. But for many of us it has been a temporary thing. Soon families will gather; Christmas crackers will pop and the figgy pudding will be brought out again. But for others, holiday seasons are reminders that grief and isolation are a permanent fixture.
By welcoming our never-welcomed brothers and sisters, we welcome Christ into our homes.
I encourage those of us for whom isolation has come and gone to use that experience to empathise with those for whom it goes on. Remember those who never see their name on a Christmas stocking, who have no seat waiting at a family gathering, who only ever see their names on letters from the electricity company or email subscriptions. Can you remember them—truly remember them—and include them in your festivities every year? Could it potentially be not just a one-off thing but a permanent fixture?
By welcoming our never-welcomed brothers and sisters, we welcome Christ into our homes (Matt 25:45).
By sacrificing the comfort of our intimate spaces, our Christmas, New Years and holiday seasons become more blessed through our giving (Acts 20:35). By bringing those who do not have family, partners, or intimate relationships into our family life, we truly become the divine reality of family—the family of God (Matt 12:46-50). Sam Alberry writes, “blood, they say, is thicker than water. But the blood of Jesus is thicker still.”
And to you who are struggling in this season. I know that Christmas may not be happy for you, New Year may not bring blessings. Pictures of celebrations may not show inner turbulence, nor do gatherings create belonging.
So have a gentle Christmas, friends, and a realistic new year.
 Bruner, Jerome. “Life as Narrative.” Social Research 54, no. 1 (1987): 11–32. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40970444.
 “Using Our Bodies Faithfully: Christian Friendship and the Life of Worship,” Journal of Disability & Religion 19, no. 3 (2015).
 John Swinton, Dementia: Living in the Memories of God(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2012).
 Matt 6:25-34, 9:22, 10:29-31; Mk 6:50; 14:27, John 14:1, 16:33.
 2 Cor 1, Eph 3:14-19, Heb 12:1-3, 1 Pet 1.
 Sam Allberry, Seven Myths about Singleness (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossways, 2019), 87.