It is snowing here in Pilgrim Land, which makes my whole day happier. It’s nearing the end of the semester, which doesn’t hurt either, and it’s still Advent, and there were some incredible moments of how beautiful God is in other people this week, so happy Friday, everyone.
The song of this week is “We Three Kings,” which is one of those delightful carols that no one really listens to for the lyrics. When I started doing so, I realized, this is is one weird song. Not weird in the ways you can perform it weird (although, it does give us opportunity to see Hugh Jackman in a velvet cape, which is a fantastic excuse for anything in my book), but weird in that it’s sometimes a little dark, and creepy, and odd.
I first noticed this many years ago, actually; nearly every Christmas for about 13 or 14 years, I’ve read What Child Is This? by Caroline B. Cooney. It’s a great book, I highly recommend it, young adult fiction though it is. But there’s a scene in it when a little girl who is not having a great life begs to go to her first church pageant on Christmas Eve because it sounds so pretty, and she does. But she gets there and realizes that this is something big and majestic and scary, and the scene goes through the myrrh verse of this song: “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume breathes of life in gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”
Whoa! That one gets skipped a lot, because Christmas isn’t about that. Christmas is about a baby and life and hope and snow and trees and lots and lots of stars, right?
Sometimes. But not always. Not for everybody.
My church had a thing this past Sunday called “Blue Christmas,” specifically designed to be a mellow service for those who don’t feel the Christmas joy—whether because they’ve recently lost a loved one, or they have an anniversary coming up they’d rather forget, or whatever. I went, not because Christmas makes me blue, but because I know what it is to be less than joyful when it looks to the world like you should be merry. (I also attended every service available that day to see if I could burn myself out, but that’s a story for another time. Suffice it to say the experiment backfired.)
So there was this Blue Christmas, and from that there has been a week of my noticing the people around me who are stressed out, or sad, or frustrated. Christmas is indeed about hope and light, but hope and light don’t exist without darkness in this world; it would be really nice if they did, but not here. I’ve been telling a friend recently that the blues, the myrrh, the sorrow—these are real, too, they are true just as the shining bells and the joyful sleighs are, and holding both is necessary.
Interpreter gave some closing remarks at the Blue Christmas service that were wonderfully spot on; Christmas is indeed about remembering that Christ came to earth as a baby and the nativity scenes are beautiful. But it’s also about remembering that the reason He had to come in the first place was for the world that was totally effed up, for the people who were hurting, suffering, bleeding.
As He would do.
A friend of mine read a poem by Anne Weems this week that’s stuck with me called The Cross in the Manger. Knowing this, remembering that the world is broken and that’s something we have to deal with, is tough when the fluffy white flakes of promise and music float past the window to land softly on the car I’ll have to dig out for class today. But it’s true, it’s real; there is the gold, and the frankincense, both of which are for a king and beautifully shiny and grand. But there is also the myrrh, brought by kings (who are not, as I thought when a child, from Orientar; it’s amazing how butchered punctuation and pauses get around this song) to worship the One who came in recognition that things are not perfect. Hallelujah for the humanity of the divine that allows us to be joyful and filled with delight in the Christmas season–but also allows us to say that we still need the star to guide us to its perfect light. We aren’t there yet.
I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up, and have not let my enemies rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me. O LORD, You have brought up my soul from Sheol ; You have kept me alive, that I would not go down to the pit. Sing praise to the LORD, you His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime ; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:1–5, NASV)