Christmas is always advertised as a joyous occasion, and in many ways, it usually is. But there’s an underlying sadness to Christmas, a darkness that is evident in the brokenness and confusion and hurt so prevalent in our world. For as much as the birth of Christ is something to celebrate, there is so much more we are waiting for. I believe wholeheartedly that life with Jesus is better, but better is not perfect. Life with Jesus is good, but not always the kind of good I want it to be, and certainly not an easy, uncomplicated kind of good.
There are about a zillion versions of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel out there, but my favorite acknowledge the true somber nature of the words. As we sang it in church this morning, this verse in particular stuck out to me:
O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
I don’t know the history behind the song, but it seems to me as though it’s written both to Israel in a historical sense–the people written about in the Old Testament, who heard prophecies foretelling of a Messiah–and also to Israel in a broad sense, encapsulating all those who have come to find themselves as part of the Christian story. This verse is where we live. We know there is a reason to rejoice–Jesus has come!–but there is still much longing, waiting, yearning; for he will he come again to put things right. Gloomy clouds of night, death’s dark shadows–even if we haven’t known these things personally, we see them all around us, and we know them to not be the way things are supposed to be.
Seeing this tension has always been part of the point of this season, but I finally feel like I’m beginning to understand it a little bit. Life is hard, and it will always be some kind of hard, because there is something fundamentally broken about it, the kind of broken we will never be able to truly fix. We live in the complicated time of the now-and-not-yet; knowing Jesus has come, yes, but the world and our lives are far from perfect, even with Jesus as part of them.
“Come, Lord Jesus” are words that get thrown around almost haphazardly at times, but this time of year, and this year in particular, they feel more poignant than ever before. The world feels more fractured than usual, or maybe I’ve just finally started to pay more attention to it. It is weighty.
There is reason to rejoice though, for Jesus has come once and there are beautiful, lovely people working to set things to right in small ways every day. And the end of the story has yet to be told.
In the words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Til next time…