Meditation 12/21: Christmas in the minor key
Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
So much of Christmas is heard in a minor key. Woe is as much a theme of Christmas as is exaltation. I play Christmas music at home starting at Thanksgiving. A heavy weight of Christmas music is about people who are no longer here; the nostalgia of memory undercut by the sharp reality of today’s vexations and fears; the reality that Christmas wishes often have little connection with contemporary disappointments and privations. This weekend I’m assembling Christmas gift bags for my patients at hospice. I hope they will like the sentiment and the effort, but I know that no gift can overcome the reality of the voracious truth of hospice care itself.
Christmas is a time of vulnerability, and a time when we have to steel ourselves to smile when we often don’t feel like smiling. In my going-on two decades of ministry, I have not once preached on the slaughter of the innocent boy children of Bethlehem, because I truly don’t know how to make sense of something so tragic. Moreover, we are poignantly aware of the ceaseless martyrdom of children in our world at this exact moment.
When we listen to hopeful, touching Bible passages of Christmas, at the same time, we know where this story is headed. Shepherds will soon go their way, and then the old rugged cross will ultimately be the largest feature on the horizon of a stony outcropping. We human beings are capable of holding two opposing thoughts in our minds at the same time: We can understand that “Joy to the World” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” both express something fundamentally true this time of year. Christmas is both a simple and a complicated story, both an earthly and a heavenly, both God’s story and our story.
I think the birth of the Son of God is the ultimate Christmas miracle. I think our ability to find loveliness, hope, and blessing in our lives and in the world we maneuver is a Christmas miracle, too. We are called to live in these miracles with a knit and a bruise on our hearts. There is nothing like cradling an infant in our arms. That is why Jesus ended up on earth as a newborn. As much as we know how the gospels end, our mission at this time of year is to keep the newborn in our arms. Because what we’re holding in our arms is not merely Jesus. We’re holding ourselves as well.
Warmest Christmas Blessings,