Christmas music begins the day after Thanksgiving in the Keener household and continues well into the month of January . . . Dana loves Christmas and would keep it going for as long as I can tolerate it. There is something beautiful about Christmas with God coming to the world in love . . . not in a judgmental way, but in way that makes it difficult to not want to jump into that love and fully embrace it. God comes as a little baby . . . and, who among us does not love little babies? Who wouldn’t want to hang on to that feeling for as long as possible? To keep it going? This celebratory version of Christmas is hard to shake, especially in the Keener household . . . but, there is a darkness that looms over the Christmas story . . . a darkness waiting to jump out from the shadows and remind us that life is not simple.
Life is complicated.
Life is complicated even when it comes to our salvation story.
As soon as the wise men left, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream with a warning: “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Joseph is warned that Israel is no place for him and his family . . . that there was danger in staying . . . grave danger. Heeding the warning of the angel, Joseph packs up his family and hightails it to Egypt . . . runs for their lives.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (as they say in all the great Westerns), Herod realizes that he has been duped. The wise men do not return with the information of where the new king of Israel has been born; nope, they have skipped town. Furious Herod does the only thing that he can do to remedy this competition . . . he issues an edict to kill all the boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem who were two years old and under. This was the only way he could be assured that this challenge to his power would be eliminated.
The darkness moves quickly to squash out the beauty of the Christmas story. The children are killed. A nightmarish tragedy echoes forth from the story as death moves through families and communities. A prophecy has been fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Such actions kind of put a kabash on the Christmas story . . . no one really wants to sing Christmas hymns and songs knowing that innocent lives were taken. It doesn’t make much sense does it? And, yet, this is a part of the story of Christmas . . . a part of the reality of our salvation story. Darkness engulfs the story . . . and, it just does not make sense.
So, the baby Jesus is whisked off to safety in the land of Egypt. Kind of ironic that Egypt would be the place of safety for the saviour of the world? Egypt which had been a house of bondage to Israel . . . the land of their exile for so many generations . . . a place where they were oppressed . . . a place where their children suffered. Ironic, yet so symbolic. For it was out of Egypt that Israel was born . . . it was out of Egypt that Israel found itself as God’s children . . . out of Egypt from where it was saved and had its beginning. Once again, it will be out of Egypt that the family of God will be born anew . . . that it will be established as a new creation . . . a new beginning. It is difficult not to note the parallel of this story with the story of Israel’s exodus from bondage into life.
But, again, does this make sense?
In light of the fact that we were just getting our Christmas groove on, does any of this make sense? Does it make sense that so many innocent children would be allowed to be killed? Does it make sense that Joseph drags his family off to Egypt--not quite one of the top ten places for Jews to go and take an extended vacation? All of this puts a damper on our Christmas celebration . . . from joy to crushing frustration and ultimately, depression . . . as darkness casts a shadow over the promise and the hope of the season. Doesn’t make much sense does it?
One biblical commentator stated that this was a “trial of the faith of Joseph and Mary.” In my mind and heart, this is a pretty harsh trial of faith. From the beginning it has not been easy for either of them . . . an unexpected pregnancy before the wedding has even happened . . . news that their kid would be the saviour of the world . . . no room in the inn . . . a birth in a stable . . . strangers showing up all goo-goo eyed over their kid . . . angels coming with messages and telling them to get the heck out of Dodge . . . running off to Egypt. That is a lot of stress on the newly married couple who have just had their first baby. Nothing normal about it. And, I imagine that both Joseph and Mary were overwhelmed with feelings of frustration . . . nothing made sense.
But, God is funny that way. Not “funny” as in a “ha ha” sense of the word, but “funny” as in “peculiar”. God likes to throw a lot of curveballs in a world that expects fast balls. But God never said it would be easy. Jesus never promised that it would be easy. Heck, faith is hard. Because we really do know how difficult and hard faith can be . . . and, we also know that God has the capability to simply fix it all with a simple motion of love and grace to make all things work out . . . we just don’t understand why it has to be so difficult and hard. Why do we have to go through all this muck and mire? So why doesn’t God just fix it?
It just doesn’t make sense.
As we were growing and continue to grow, did it make much sense if our parents, teachers, and mentors did everything for us? No, it didn’t. If our parents, teachers, and mentors did everything for us, what would we have learned? Nothing. And, what would we have become?
God understood and understands this. If our parents, teachers, and mentors did all the work for us, would we be the people we are today? Would we know who we are? Probably not, and for that reason we have to go through life experiencing all of its ups and downs for ourselves . . . having to make the decisions for ourselves . . . having to learn the lessons. No one else can do it for us . . . not even God. The choice is always ours. And, a lot of the time, the choices we make do not make a lot of sense at the time that we make them.
But, we have to believe. We have to believe in the promise. We have to believe in the gift. We have to believe that God will not abandon us. We have to believe that we are on the right path . . . a path blazed for us in the life and example of Jesus. We have to believe in love and grace in the face of a world that seems to be spinning towards darkness. We have to believe.
And, to believe . . . to believe is our choice.
Throughout the Christmas story, all of the leading characters had choices to make. God did not force them to go one way over the other, but allowed for them to make choices. In the story we read of the choices that they made even though we do not quite understand the choices that they were given. This is probably not the way we would have written the Christmas story had we been given the chance . . . we would have had it end with “. . . and they all lived happily ever after.” Thus we are confused . . . confused and attempting to make sense of it all.
Darkness invades the Christmas story just as it invades our lives. That is the way life is . . . the way that faith is. It is hard and often times unexplainable and difficult to understand. And, we wonder . . . we question . . . we attempt to make sense of it all. The truth of the matter is, darkness is a part of the Christmas story . . . plain and simple, just as it is a part of life. What makes it easier to endure is the choice to believe . . . to believe in the promise . . . to believe in the love and grace . . . and, to set that belief into action in the way that we live our lives. That much of our story we can control. That is our choice.
This darkness that invades our joyful celebration of the Christmas story does not have to be the end of our joy or our celebration. Christmas hymns and songs can continued to be sung despite this darkness that produces a bump in the journey of faith. True, it is a part of the story . . . a gruesome part . . . but, a part nonetheless. As such, it presents us with a choice . . . a choice of how we confront the darkness that enters into our lives. We can acknowledge the darkness, and we can respond with belief.
Belief that Immanuel . . . God with us . . . is where we begin. With such belief we begin to live life. God’s ways may not make sense, but God does. In that we believe and live. Amen.