The trouble with a ‘nice’ Christmas
Years ago, I received word that my Christmas Eve service was a little too gritty. Those weren’t Mindy’s exact words (and I’m using Mindy as her name here), but this thoughtful, faithful person made her point clearly: she wanted a blissful, beautiful Christmas complete with carols and candlelight. She wanted the Bethlehem story to be a soft romance. Specifically, she thought the December 24th service to be nice. The warm feeling of a glass of wine, a lap blanket, a cozy chair, and a low glow fire in the hearth across the room is what she had in mind.
Mindy isn’t alone. Most of us are like her, especially after a schedule-pressed and sometimes frantic December. And ho, ho hurt? Let’s not forget grief. The loss of a loved one is always painful. Couple missing someone with late December and the heartbreak is heavier.
“Don’t preach,” she seemed to say. “Just give me something soft, something pretty.”
Mindy speaks for those who want sparkle and splendor, sweet and simple. There is nothing wrong with this, but is the birth narrative something to shellack or sugarcoat?
It is true that two tremendous joys come with Christmas and Easter messages. The baby arrives. Emmanual, Christ with us, is here! And Christ is still with us because even death cannot keep the Son of God from us. The tomb is empty.
Yes, there is a celebration here. With the hint of Pentecost where a roof is blown off and the Holy Spirit of God rushes in and around worshippers, these annual life over loss church services cannot be contained, marginalized, patted down or silenced.
While we do experience melancholy times and sorrowful moments personally (and we do experience melancholy times and sorrowful moments personally), this annual, global phenomenon of Christmas Eve transcends the generations. Um. Yes. Hello! The Light of the world spotlighted through a guiding star over the town of David is huge! Save for the empty tomb three days after Christ’s body is removed from the cross and the Savior of the world walks again on earth with nail holes in his hands and feet, a Christmas Eve service doesn’t get more exciting or more joyful.
Or this should be exciting and joyful.
There is trouble with nice when it comes to Christmas Eve because none of the story is nice. We can bring our warm feelings to this, but, from the start, the birth narrative is neither soft nor sweet. Mary hears a sword will pierce her heart, her future with Joseph is in question because her fiancé can divorce her instantly for the obvious reason that the child isn’t his.