Soul Care with Spurgeon: Good Cheer for Christmas

It's no secret that for many, the fall and winter seasons, connected to holidays such as Christmas and New Year, can be an emotionally and spiritually difficult time. In the clinical mental health world, a diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder for sufferers with a constellation of symptoms is possible, if specific criteria are met. 

Those who consider that their experience mirrors the clinical definition of SAD should consider consulting with a medical professional, even as they may also seek non-medical interventions, such as biblical counseling.

For others, sadness and depression during the holidays is linked to life events that are understandably difficult. The loss of a loved one, loss of a job or significant income reduction, family or marital strife, and any number of other risk factors present during the holidays can tempt a person toward sadness, depressiveness, or low mood in a time of year that is culturally conditioned toward joy and happiness. 

For those who are struggling emotionally during the holidays, all of this can lead to a greater sense of unmet expectations, failure, hopelessness, bitterness, and frustration.

In many scenarios, the person who experiences these emotions and circumstances can find themselves on a proverbial hamster wheel from which it seems there is no escape. 

Fortunately, even when there is a biological component to a seasonal sadness or depression, there are spiritual realities that must be dealt with, and God's word is uniquely sufficient to this task.

Whereas sadness and depression specialize in tempting our eyes away from the hope that belongs to the one who is united to Christ by grace alone through faith alone, the promises of God call and empower the sufferer to fix their gaze upon the One who died to redeem them from the valley.

A Sweet Release

On December 20, 1868, Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon that he called "Good Cheer for Christmas." His text was Isaiah 25:6, which reads:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

In this verse, Spurgeon saw "this mountain" as pointing to the church, the "Lord of hosts" as the sole provider of the "feast," the meal itself as the fulness of the Gospel message, and "all peoples" as reflective of the "every tribe and nation" nature of God's redemptive work in the world.

Spurgeon's Christmas message was steeped in theological categories. Themes of justification, law, Gospel, adoption, covenant, and union with Christ were not just present in a hushed tone, but were explicitly drawn out of Isaiah's text, and expounded upon.

We live in an era of the church in America that commonly holds talk of theology and sound doctrine with suspicion. Truth is relative and doctrine divides, we're told by many. 

For this reason, many sermons and Christian books are theologically anemic. Spurgeon would say, perhaps, that the feast spoken of in Isaiah 25:6 has been reduced to a fast food menu item, full of carbs, and no "marrow" with which to nourish the suffering, sad, and depressed soul.

For Spurgeon, who struggled with depression himself, and who held the celebration of Christmas in what has been described by Dr. Christian George as a "love-hate relationship" (Spurgeon: Santa or Scrooge?), the Gospel message of Jesus Christ was to the soul "its sweet release from bondage and stress--its mirth and joy!"

He Thought of Me

Spurgeon opened his sermon by noting that while the "entire world in England [was] enjoying themselves with all the good cheer" they could afford, the "servants of God" were to be reminded that they alone held the "largest share in the person of Him who was born at Bethlehem."

Indeed, he writes, "Long before the Lord began to create the world, He had thought of me!" In this Gospel truth, connected, Surgeon would write, to the doctrine of election, the depressed soul finds comfort, joy, and hope in the face of emotions and circumstances which declare a false gospel of hopelessness.

Spurgeon preached to his audience that the loving call of God was "without repentance," that is, that once God set His love upon a man, "...He never turns away from doing him good." Spurgeon desired for his audience, and he would no doubt proclaim today, that in the cold and chaos of the Christmas season, that the sad heart might be warmed by the fires of biblical truth.

Sadness and depression, and particularly those experienced by many during the holidays preach a strong word. But, as has been said before, they often over-estimate the trouble we face, and under-estimate the help available to us in Christ and in His church.

If you struggle during the holidays with a grieving heart, hear the words of Charles Spurgeon preached on a December Sunday in 1868, and be encouraged of this greatest of all truths:

One of the dearest joys of the Christian life is a sense of perfect peace with God. Oh, I tell you when one is quiet for a while, and the din and noise of business is out of one's ears, it is one of the most delicious things in the entire world to meditate upon God and to feel He is no enemy to me, and I am no enemy to Him.

Join the Conversation

Do you suffer from seasonal depression and sadness?

If so, how do you fight for joy and what role does the Gospel message play in that effort?