Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas of Weeping: pain through the Advent season



Our world reels from the slaughter of innocent children less than two weeks before Christmas Day.  The senseless and violent tragedy seems all the more impossible to comprehend amidst the festivities of the holiday season.

They say some people in Newtown, Connecticut, have taken down their Christmas decorations, which is completely understandable.  After all, how can you have a smiling snowman in your front yard when you are mourning the death of a child you know?  How can you listen to “oh by golly, have a holly jolly Christmas this year!” when your heart hears the brokenhearted cries of bereaved parents, in homes where Christmas gifts carefully shopped for and wrapped now have no one to open them?

I don’t see anything necessarily wrong with the Santa Claus story, and I like it just I like any good fairy tale, but I will say that it doesn’t do much for you to think about reindeer and elves and gifts from the North Pole when you are heartbroken.  Pack all those decorations away.  Santa’s coming down the chimney, which we know really means stressful shopping lists, long lines, high credit card bills, and overtime hours for retail employees—this story does not meet us in our pain.  It reminds me of the verse in Proverbs 14:13, “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.”

The truth is, this year for many the Christmas season is painful.  Every year, to some extent, the Christmas season is painful, as it brings us face to face with our unfulfilled expectations, our memories of loved ones lost, our yearning for people perhaps estranged from us, and our temptations to annoyance with the people who do join us around the holiday table. 

But if we think the Christmas season is incongruous with pain, it’s because we’ve forgotten what Christmas is all about it.  It’s our job as Christians, gently and sympathetically, to remind people of the true story of the Advent season, of the pain understood and entered into by the Lord.

The story of the unwed mother crying out, hands clutching straw, skin tearing, as she births her firstborn in a cold stable, her only help the man beside her, equally inexperienced and afraid.

The story of a people feeling forgotten by God, plagued the cruel oppression of their government and the legalism and corruption of their religious leaders.

The story of a mad king slaughtering many innocent boys in a futile attempt to murder one child he felt threatened by.

The story of pain, of a life that led to the cross, of a God who understands.  Where was God in Newtown, Connecticut?  Oh, He was right there, weeping, holding those children, bringing them into His rest.

Yes, this is not the first painful Christmas season.  The story of Advent is the story of the coming of Christ to take on our flesh and to meet us in our pain.  At Christmastime we don’t deny grief; we look through our grief to hope.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just want to turn off the Christmas radio because the “good cheer” of its songs just seems so naïve and shallow.  These are the lyrics that stick with me, though:

“Tears are falling, hearts are breaking,
How we need to hear from God.
You've been promised, we've been waiting,
Welcome Holy Child…” - Michael W. Smith

Or …

“And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
For hate is strong that mocks the song
Of peace on earth goodwill to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor does he sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, goodwill to men.” - Henry W. Longfellow

2 comments:

  1. That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing. And for making me cry again!

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  2. So much of what makes the Christmas story REAL is the part we (and preachers especially, I suppose) want to avoid -- the slaughter of the "Holy Innocents." But Jesus wasn't born in a mall creche with schmaltzy music playing scratchily over the loudspeakers. He was born into a real world, with real shepherds (and their sheep), real Bethlehem folks around, a real and extremely self-defensive king, real children who were deemed a potential threat and brutally destroyed... and that's the world He came to save. Jesus didn't avoid a brutal death; it was only delayed for a while, so that He could accept it willingly... so He could enter FULLY into our brokenness, pain, sorrow, death... and make it new from the inside.

    The "dark side" of the Christmas story is what shows us that the Light really does shine in our darkness (because we are, so often, in darkness)... and that the very real darkness, our own darkness, is what cannot and shall not overcome Him.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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