As I look at our Christmas tree leaning against the balcony wall, still in the netting and waiting to be put in the stand and decorated–Yes, I realize Christmas is four days away, and no, I don’t want to accept that fact!–it occurs to me that many may be having a hard time getting into the joyous Christmas spirit this year.
Our own delay in decorating this year is in part related to the fact that our tree stand and Christmas decorations are still in the cellar storage of our old apartment, three blocks away. But for many, the cheer and good will of the season grow more elusive each year. A degree of sadness settles in to what used to be a happy time of festivity.
I know that some of you are “celebrating” this Christmas without someone you have lost this past year. Others of you are weary of the year’s troubles and disappointments or illnesses, and the approaching new year does not promise much different.
“Joy to the World!” may be ringing empty in your ears. In fact, singing or listening to Christmas music may be the last thing you feel like doing. But I encourage you to listen and to pay closer attention to the words of the old familiar carols you may have been singing for years. It seems many of them were written by and for people who knew something about weariness and sorrow. Consider the following excerpts:
“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.
O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.
O come, thou Day-spring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!”
[O Come, O Come Emmanuel, vss. 1, 5, 6, refrain]
“And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing:
O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.”
[It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, vs. 3]
“Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.
Ris’n with healing in his wings, light and life to all he brings,
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness! Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the newborn King!”
[Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, vs. 3]
“. . . yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.”
[O, Little Town of Bethlehem, vs. 1]
We are reminded by the carols of Christmas that the sorrowful and weary condition of our sin-stricken world is precisely the context into which Jesus was born. The Son of God took on human flesh and entered into the world He had created in order that He might bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. The prophet Isaiah describes the coming Savior as, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
All of creation lay under the curse of sin and death. But Jesus came to reverse the effects of the fall of Adam and “to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” [Joy to the World! vs. 3] By “becoming sin” and suffering death for us, Jesus set us free from sin and death. By rising again, He became the first fruits of the new creation. The trajectory of history has been forever changed.
The point is not that, in light of the Incarnation, you and I should now muscle through and find courage to rise up to Christmas joy, but rather to acknowledge in awe that by His Incarnation, God has descended to us, bringing His joy down into our misery.
“Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing.” [Joy to the World! vs. 1]