One would need to be living in a total state of denial not to admit that this has become a much more somber Christmas than usual. The recent horror of horrors in Connecticut has made much of our usual holiday merrymaking seem somehow inappropriate. Singing about “a holly, jolly Christmas” or even “Joy to the world” can ring more than a little hallow in the face of what we have seen. Our national mood might well reflect that of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow more than a century ago:
“And in despair I bowed my head,
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said.
‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.’”
In a deeper sense, we might even wonder about the very relevance of that babe born in the stable in Bethlehem to this vale of tears we inhabit. Because Christmas traditionally centers so directly on the birth of a Holy Child, and because Christmas as more broadly celebrated emphasizes so persistently the innocence and dreams and joy of children everywhere, we are shaken to the core by what we have seen, and we can not even begin to imagine what those who have experienced this tragedy directly must be going through.
So it seems as though, this year at least, the light has been extinguished, or pretty near. The angel voices have been rendered silent, or if they’re still singing, then they’re singing very softly. There might even be within us something of an urge to cancel Christmas this year, or at least postpone it, as if we could. Just forget about it. To pack up the tinsel, and put away the tree, and simply rejoin the mundane and prosaic pathway of the (so called) “real world”.
But you see, it’s because the world, as it is, is too much with us that we need Christmas, and that we could not survive (spiritually, emotionally, holistically) without it, and without what it represents. Because the darkness surrounds us so deeply at times, we need the light of Christmas. Because the world is mired so deeply in despair, we need its hope.
Because this world is fallen, we need the Incarnation, the embodiment of God’s Holy Spirit with us, and among us, and within us.
Christmas shows us that when night is darkest, we can see the shining of the stars most gloriously. If there was no darkness of midnight, there could be no star to guide the wise men to the stable. When we are most empty, the abundance of God can fill our souls. When we are poorest in spirit, a divine inheritance will be ours.
At Advent, the weeks leading up to Christmas, we are shaken awake with the news, the reality, that God is on his way.Emmanuel: God’s Love—God’s Peace—God’s Hope—is coming, here, to be with us. So we must pay attention, and keep watch, and prepare a place, and attune our lives to dwell in the reality of that Presence.
This has been a rather bitter Advent, I know, and perhaps God’s angels are arriving this year more like First Responders than as sweet and airy cherubim.
But now, they have arrived, because He has arrived. It is Holy Night. That Holy Babe has been born. Now, God’s presence not only fills the universe, and swings the planets, and keeps the cosmos in order. Now, God’s presence also walks with us, here on earth. And weeps with us, and comforts us, and allows us to believe that our hopes are not in vain.
Tomorrow, with the dawn of Christmas Day, we will all be called to be as little children again. Christmas only really works, I think, if we approach it as a child does, with a child’s faith, and a child’s hope, and a child’s love. Innocently. Expectantly. Without all of our adult agendas and issues and (all too) complexes.
That’s tomorrow. Celebrate sweetly, then, to honor the sweet memory of those who have been taken from us, to honor all those we have loved who are no longer with us. Tomorrow, Christmas Day, is the day for childlike celebration.
Tonight, we rest. We sleep, in heavenly peace. In himmlischer Ruhr.
Tonight, the world sleeps in God’s embrace, like a newborn babe in his mother’s arms. And as we sleep, may we dare to dream again-- of angel chorus singing fully and confidently again, and bells ringing, and stars shining, and the laughter of all those we love, and the light in the eyes of all the world’s children, and the babe in the manger, calling us, challenging us, to follow him down the blessed pathway of God’s love.