O Holy Night

Out of scores of Christmas carols that are played around the clock during this season, none touches me more of late than the song O Holy Night. If the opening words have not yet been etched into your brain:
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
This has been, I know, a very challenging year for many people. For some, it is simply yet another challenging year while, for others, we have seen the meltdown of the economy. Many of us are living through the first cycle without a loved one: a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling, a friend without whom it is hard to imagine this being Christmas.

I suspect that Christmas can make the feelings of loss and sadness even more pronounced. Store ads and radio jingles promote this as the happiest time of year...but we feel none of this store-hawked joy, none of this able-to-be-bought happiness. Our hearts ache for something, a gaping hole within our very beings threatens to swallow us. We are weary, we are tired, and it feels like nothing that we do, nothing we buy, nothing we say can remove the burden of darkness from our hearts.

Perhaps it is, then, fitting, that Christmas falls just after the winter solstice. Our days have grown progressively darker since the warm and sunny days of summer. But now we are left with cold darkness, and we pine for the warmth of spring and summer. Our eyes cast about looking for signs of new life, of hope, but it seems like all we see is snow and slush, terrible weather, and travel delays. 

Just when it seems that the forces of darkness and despair will conquer our wearied hearts, we dare to sing (over and over) of the "Thrill of hope" and a weary world rejoices. Into this darkness and sadness, a thin ray of promise irrupts. The world, long mired in darkness, cannot yet muster the strength to greet its savior, but there is a thrill, a slight tremble, a pin-prick of hope that reminds us that the darkness will not last forever, that the dawn will conquer the darkness, and that we must hold on because in our midst the promise of the savior is being fulfilled. 

I've read that the post-holiday season is the time when people are most susceptible to suicide. This is a tragedy. We gear up for two bloody months after Halloween to celebrate the coming of Christ and then, after the wrapping paper is cleared, we immediately put away our decorations and go back to normal. For all the complaining about wanting to put "Christ back in Christmas" we seem pretty quick to want to resume our regular lives after the holidays are over. We are glad not to have to host parties, go to cocktail events, and suffer family visits. In a word, we want: normal.

To my mind, this is a tragedy. If we've gone to all this trouble to celebrate the coming of Christ ONLY to go back to normal, to return to our normal ways of doing things, then we have, it seems to me, drawn the curtains against the "new and glorious morn" that the birth of the savior announces. We return to the darkness of our daily drudgery, we go back to complaining, and we ignore the fact that something spectacular has happened in our lives: the Christ has come.

I don't need to give a moralizing lesson, but it just strikes me that if we are sincere in our belief that we are on the cusp of celebrating the birth of Christ that we will be unable to "go back to normal." At least, not so quickly. What does it mean that God dwells with us? That God assumed human flesh? Does this mean something in regard to the way I behave toward my sisters and brothers? The environment? To myself? 

My friends, I think we live too often as though the joy inaugurated at Christmas extended for a 24-hour period. The light of the new dawn must rouse us from our slumbers for it calls us to respond to the promise of the new day. If we so quickly return to "business as usual" then we have not taken seriously what has happened; if we draw the curtains and roll over to return to our complacent slumber, we have missed the point. 

The light that pierces the darkness this night, this Holy Night, is the light of the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world. How happy are we called out of our slumber to stand in this light, to gather together as sisters and brothers called into community, into communion, with the Holy One of God. Let the thrill of hope not be a momentary interruption into our sinful slumber but, rather, let it rouse us from our somnolence and draw us out into the world as we welcome Christ anew!

Merry Christmas!!

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