I overheard someone say, "Christmas is hell." I found it kind of ironic, funny and yet a wee bit sad. Hell is an odd concept for many. And even I have trouble defining it, or believing in it. However, Jesus speaks of it so I cannot simply dismiss it. Neither can I, nor would I, pair it with Christmas, no matter how bad my kids can be.
I like the way Henry Nouwen writes of hell: "Often hell is portrayed as a place of punishment and heaven as a place of reward. But this concept easily leads us to see God as a policeman, who tries to catch us when we make a mistake And send us to prison when our mistakes become too big, or a Santa Claude, who counts up all our good deeds and puts a reward in our stocking at the end of the year.
"God, however, is neither a policeman nor a Santa Claus. God does not send us to heaven or hell depending on how often we obey or disobey. God is love and only love. In God there is no hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished. God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home.
"But just as the father of the prodigal son let his son make his own decisions God gives us the freedom to move away from God's love even at the risk of destroying ourselves. Hell is not God's choice. It is ours."
Just as we see God in others so to can we see heaven within ourselves.