By Larry Short
One of the many incongruities of Christmas is this: We sing “Joy to the World” and celebrate the birth of our Savior. But it is also, for many of us, a time of grief and sorrow … a reminder of painful personal losses.
I lost my dad, a few years back, on December 30. Darlene lost her teenage sister, Laurie, many years ago, a few days before Christmas. Many of you reading this, I know, have experienced similarly difficult losses at this time of year.
When we think of the birth of Christ, we envision angels singing Hallelujah! But what else was happening around that time? Think about Herod — seeking to kill the Messiah, and ordering the massacre of thousands of innocent babies in the process.
The arrival of the wise men, and the gifts that they bore, surely brought joy, we think. Gold and frankincense? No problem. But myrrh? An embalming spice, which releases its fragrance when crushed. If I were Joseph, I think I just might have put that third wise man’s gift right back on his camel, with a quick: “Thanks, but no thanks!”
Now think about the words of Simeon, as recorded in Luke 2, who was moved by the Spirit to prophecy to Mary and Joseph when Jesus was consecrated in the Temple at a tender age:
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Mary and Joseph must have thought: Okay, Simeon, you should have stopped at “the glory of your people Israel.” Why did you have to go on and say that part about the sword, piercing your own soul? Merry Christmas.
Thus is the human condition: Joy … and sorrow. Life … and death.
Or perhaps I have that in the reverse order. Simeon said “falling … and rising” … because of the birth of our Savior! There’s the grave … and THEN the victory over the grave. The crucifixion … and THEN the resurrection.
It’s Friday … but Sunday’s a comin’!
As my Christmas gift to you, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite “newer” Christmas songs (not quite a carol yet), which embodies this Christmas conundrum of joy and sorrow: “Joseph’s Lullaby,” by Mercy Me. This YouTube video sets its words against poignant scenes from the movies “The Nativity Story” and “The Passion of the Christ” (difficult to watch … but well illustrative of both the joy and the pain that is wrapped up in this thing we call Christmas).