The Dark Side of Christmas
After quick scan of the Christmas tree, we all let out a sigh of relief and then began giggling. My younger siblings and I had once again found our favorite Christmas ornament stealthily hidden behind the dark green branches of our tree. With glee, we energetically returned the cardboard decoration, containing my older brother’s preschool class photo (a photo which had been snapped under protest) to the center of the tree. A few hours later, we would notice that our well-teased older brother had moved the ornament back to the dark side of the tree. Undaunted, we would once again take it upon ourselves to cheerfully return the pouty face picture to the front of the tree. As the years went by, we launched an unofficial Witkowski family tradition ornament hide and seek!
In the same way, many of us view Christmas as a time to play hide and seek with the undesirable pictures of life. We strive to jingle all the way through December. Everywhere we look, we see smiling children, happy families, and cheery movies. When we peek into church, we catch a view of nativity sets staffed by cute, little faces adorned in colorful bedding and drapes. We naturally conclude that Christmas is about being happy on earth. Seeking to comply with the Christmas way, we often spend several weeks each winter pretending that our lives are free from the consequences of the fall. We banish the images of a mother grieving the absence of her child, of an unemployed father unable to buy gifts for his children, and of a child distressed by the absence of a grandparent to the undecorated side of our trees. We try to hide the dark side of Christmas.
Though society may not see the sorrow sketched into our hearts, we have to admit that our sorrow returns often to the front of our minds. Regardless how hard we strive to greet people with an upbeat, “Merry Christmas,” we cannot will ourselves to happiness. As white lights begin to sparkle, we find ourselves alone in darkness.
But the good news of the Christmas story is that we are not called to the impossible task of wishing away our worries. Nor are we called to ride a one-horse-open-sleigh to other extreme of decorating our houses with grumpy pictures. We are called to overcome our despair through Christ.
Jesus came to earth to save his hurting people from the darkness. Jesus came so that the innocent, little babies Herod murdered could rest in the arms of God the Father (Mat 2:16-18). Jesus came so that the weeping voices that echoed long ago through the hills Bethlehem could have comfort. Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again to overcome the evil from without and the evil from within. Jesus came to give the sorrow laden people who believe on him hope and everlasting joy.
And as we celebrate Christ birth thousands of years later, we do not have to hide our sorrows in darkness, greeting everyone with one of Santa’s famous “Ho, Ho Ho!” Nor do we make our suffering the center of the holiday season, complaining Grinch-ly that everything happy is but, “noise, noise noise!” As Christians, we overcome the darkness of holiday depression with the truth of the gospel that appeared in the form of baby! As C.J. Mahaney writes, “Don’t listen to yourself; talk to yourself…expend your energies admiring, exploring, expositing, and extolling Jesus Christ” (Mahaney, 2002).
As we prepare to open presents, we can admit that we miss seeing grandma sitting in her favorite chair. We can reminisce about our spouse’s cheerful smile that accompanied every plate of scrumptious pancakes. And, we can shed tears for the baby who never saw its parent’s modest little tree. We can mourn the effects of sin that removed God’s blessings from our lives. But, we do not stop here.
We begin preaching to ourselves. We rejoice this Christmas because Jesus’s arrival points us to the gift of eternal life, a gift that far outweighs any amount of earthly suffering. We will once again see our loved ones in glory and know that one day all of this world’s injustice will be set aright. As we gaze at candy canes, we know that God’s mercy is new every morning, caring us through all of our struggles. We can trust God’s promise to never leave of forsake us. And as we sip hot cocoa, we can encourage one another with the assurance of Christ’s next coming. We look forward to the new heavens and new earth where the:
The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,
Nor the voice of crying.
No more shall an infant from there live but a few days,
Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; (Isaiah 65:19a-20).
As we remember the one who was born manger, we can sing “With heart, and soul, and voice” because “Jesus Christ was born to save.”
This Christmas, we do not have to wish our suffering out of sight. Nor do we have to display it prominently for all to see. Rather, we admit that we suffer. Then, we embrace our savior who suffered and died to save his people. Because of Christ, we who are predisposed to haunt the darkest corners of the Christmas season may now joyful sing:
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!”