Christmas caroling facilitates the most bizarre cultural collisions. When else do people open their doors and light up with a smile at the sound of the gospel being proclaimed? When else do secular, public facilities thank you for singing about the global reign of Christ the King?
All is calm; all is bright.
But Christmas caroling also produces poignant emotional collisions. Nostalgic tunes, cheery colors, cherubic faces, soft lights, and celebrating words weave together to send a message that all is right with the world. But what about when it isn’t? For those who sit in deep darkness, songs of comfort and joy dredge up the underlying sorrows, the deep pain, the unresolved conflicts that keep their world from being right. Blessed arms cradling a thriving infant call to mind the babies who didn’t make it or cause an ache in the hearts of those whose arms remain empty. Presents stacked under a tree and a sumptuous feast spread on the table taunt those who struggle to cover their family’s most basic financial needs. And picture-perfect families happily celebrating together stand in stark contrast to the painful reality of those whose families are broken or abusive, separated by miles or perhaps even by death.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
The first Christmas “songs” were for people sitting in the dark. The infertile couple who were past hope of ever holding their own child. An unwed mother wondering how this was going to work out. An engaged man wondering if his woman had cheated on him. Marginalized men working the night shift out in the fields to feed their families. An old widow living in the temple, without the security of a home of her own or the comfort of a family gathered around her. For Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the prophetess Anna, these songs brought a message of comfort and hope into their messy lives.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger. Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.
God had heard their cries. He had noticed their plight. They were not alone. They were not forgotten. He had come to walk with them, to grieve with them, and to comfort them. He had also come to change their world. He had come to overturn the curse and make the wrong things right. He would heal the sick and restore the broken, feed empty stomachs and fill empty arms, affirm the humiliated and admonish the arrogant. And ultimately, He would restore all things to their rightful place in relationship with their God.
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here;
And drive away the shades of night and pierce the clouds and bring us light!
Songs of Christmas stir our deepest longings. They bring us face to face with what is not right in our lives, and then promise us so much more. The thought of hope can be painful, especially in light of our past disappointments. But the message of Jesus’ birth calls us out of our dark caves to bask in the dawning light. God has heard our laments. He has and is responding to our pain. And He will make all things new.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.