If Christmas is not “the hap-happiest season of all….”
A Christian radio station announced an upcoming event by saying that Christmas is the happiest season of all.
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call, is Christmas the hap-happiest season of all?
Holiday greetings and gay happy meetings don’t always happen. In fact, Christmas can truly be one the loneliest times of the year for a great number of us. Covid gave each of us the reality that some will experience this year—distance, isolation, and the promise of a connectedness that just won’t happen.
Sorrow needs to be expressed, not swept under the Christmas tree throw rug. We need to name and mark our grief, not hide it.
When sitting in our grief, we feel we have little, or less. We think the best Christmases have past.
I don’t want to take any of this away. There is something to mourn. To settle in deeply with the thought that the best Christmases have past short changes the 2022 Christmas that will be. Indeed, the Christmases of yore are past, but the meaning of Christmas refreshes each of us each year. God came to earth for us, all of us. God’s connection to us—and our connection to God—deepens with years that pass. Or they can deepen when you realize the best gift you have comes to you each year.
I get it. Holiday greetings and gay happy meetings are fun. They really are! You may have photo albums full of such bright and fun memories through the years.
This is wonderful!
Something else is happening this year, too. In fact, this is beyond wonderful and happens every Christmas. The angels proclaim this joyful news! The shoot of Jesse has come! Christ is with us!
The angels message overshadows more news at the time of Christ’s birth and infancy. As most of us experience (or are depressed by) parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow this December, there is a sorrow we all tend not to see or remember. This thread in the tapestry of the story is found in the Gospel of Matthew only. After the birth of Jesus, Matthew records that the Magi visit Jerusalem. These wise ones from the East seek guidance from King Herod. They want to know where the King of the Jews has been born.
King Herod directs them to Bethlehem. He asks them to return to him and report, but they are warned in a dream that Herod wishes to find the child and kill this baby who is God on earth.
The Magi do not return. Instead, they go home another way.
Herod is furious when he realizes he has been outwitted by the Magi. In what I sense is immediate and reactionary, he gives orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who are two years old and under.
It isn’t completely the hap-happiest season of all because no where in Matthew does the text tell us this was a bluff, or that God intervened. Those babies died.
I have a baby boy this year. My now seven-month-old foster son is the youngest sibling to my five children. I cannot fathom the depth of pain that happened then.
But maybe I should. Maybe all of us should.
Let’s think about this. Can this season be the hap-happiest of all because this enormous, horrific loss is a part of this story?
Sure, promoters including the team behind the Christian radio station I was listening to can spotlight the joy, joy, joy of the season, but let’s understand that what grounds and guides all of us in the journey from loss to hope to happiness is an anchor found long, long before Jesus’ birth and escape into the land of Egypt. Here I am speaking to Jeremiah 31:15b which reads, “Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted—for her children are gone.”
Jeremiah refers to a season when the Assyrians swoop down on the house of Israel like a wolf on the sheepfold. This enemy carries into captivity the conquered people’s precious offspring. A great cry with bitter mourning permeates from Ramah which is a little town north of Jerusalem.
The matriarch of the entire nation of Israel, Rachel is the mother of Joseph and grandmother to his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Her “weeping for her children” is a picture of all distraught Hebrew women in Ramah who break as they endure their beloved children being carried off into captivity and slavery.
The Gospel of Matthew quotes Jeremiah when recording the slaughter of the innocent babes in Bethlehem. The bitter pain the women had to endure when their infant sons were torn from their arms and brutally murdered cannot be ignored or forgotten. Matthew describes this tragedy as a ‘fulfilment’ or a somber reminder of the traumatic history of God’s errant people.
This distressing historical event rests within a section of Jeremiah’s writings that speaks of the glorious restoration, regathering, redemption, and revival of Israel. Just as the women of Ramah are surrounded by promises of hope from the Lord, so too the women of Bethlehem are surrounded by Jesus Christ, the Hope of all Nations.
We, too, are surrounded by this same Hope. Jesus Christ didn’t enter a perfect world at a perfect, peaceful time. He enters a sloppy mess of pain and people whose hearts have been crushed by cruelty of all kinds, including immeasurable loss. This baby enters our world and our hearts that may be crushed by all sorts of hardships and deep-to-the-bone hurts.
But he does enter. He joins us. God in the flesh comes down in seasons (that may or may not be hap-happy). He links his heart with ours and puts in place our future with Him.
He never said He would take away pain while we live this life. What He does, however, is take our pain to the cross and from our death to life He enables us to have a perfect, painless, everlasting future with Him.
If we can’t we hear those lyrics on radio stations this season, or we don’t hear it announced in upcoming December events, then let’s remember and rejoice in our God who, through His Son, loves us through every hurt and every hardship we experience.
Knowing this? Hmm. Maybe this is the hap-happiest season, that is, it is the hap-happiest season of Hope.