Yesterday, my friend Joel Rainey, in an excellent article, wrote about there being two Christmases in America - how one was focused on Christ and how one was the cultural celebration that offered only a respite from the reality of this world with suggestions that we have a "Holly, Jolly Christmas" with thoughts of mistletoe and snow and presents under the tree. In that article, he mentioned that there were residents of Newtown, Connecticut, the town that was tragically afflicted by the school shootings on Saturday, who were taking down their Christmas decorations. I read several other reports of that this morning. I understand. It would be very hard to celebrate Christmas at a time like this - at least the Christmas that we know and love in America, for the most part. See Joel's article here: http://joelrainey.blogspot.com/2012/12/christmas-in-newtown-and-in-your-town.html?m=1
All day yesterday, I thought about the funerals that were beginning for the children and I pictured people in Newtown taking down their Christmas decorations because it might have appeared unseemly for them to celebrate at a time like this. Or, just because they were grieving and celebrating Christmas did not make any sense for them. I get what they are thinking. Christmas as we most often celebrate it is a joyous time for family, friends, and children to get together, to give gifts, to engage in festivities and traditions, and to express love for their family and neighbors. We all want a touch of the Christmas Spirit, which seems almost impossible for the people of Newtown today.
C.S. Lewis in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" wrote about the land of Narnia that was under the spell of the evil White Witch. She had brought the snow and the cold and had frozen into statues many of the residents of Narnia. She had made it Always Winter, but Never Christmas. It was just cold and dark with no promise of hope or joy or love or peace.
In the story, the children, Peter, Susan, and Lucy, along with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, encounter Father Christmas on a sleigh. He explains that though the White Witch had kept him away with her spell, things were beginning to change:
He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest.…
Now that the children actually stood looking at him… he was so big, so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.
“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The witch’s magic is weakening.”
And Lucy felt that deep shiver of gladness that you only get if you are being solemn and still.
"Aslan is on the move. The witch's magic is weakening." Aslan was the great Lion who represented Christ and He was breaking the Curse of the White Witch, who represented the Devil, and was making all things new. Christmas is breaking into the Winter. It might not seem that way for the residents of Newtown, CT today. Christmas makes no sense to them now in the midst of their tragedy. But, I would like to put forward the suggestion that perhaps now IS the time to celebrate Christmas, the real Christmas, more than ever. Jesus was born into a world of death and destruction. As I wrote about yesterday, there was a slaughter of young boys aged two and under at his birth as the evil King Herod tried to kill the baby Jesus. There were insurrections and oppression, and the boot of Rome was on the neck of Israel at the time of Jesus' birth. Jesus himself, was persecuted and led like a lamb to the slaughter where he suffered on a brutal Roman cross for our sins. As the prophet Isaiah said, Jesus was a "man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering." Jesus' birth and death and resurrection means that suffering and sorrow and pain is no longer the end of the story because He takes that upon Himself and offers hope and resurrection to all who look to Him. It makes sense to take down Christmas decorations if your understanding of Christmas is a fun celebration - that is the primary story our culture tells, after all. The Curse has arisen again and darkness has covered the land. Why celebrate? But, for those of us who believe, we look to Christ. "Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress ... The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." (Isaiah 9:1, 2)
Jesus is our Light and the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it (John 1:5). But, even in the midst of pain and suffering and distress, the real Christmas breaks in because Jesus, well acquainted with suffering, suffers along with us and takes it from us and offers the hope of forgiveness and reconciliation to God and the resurrection of the dead. We grieve because things are not as they should be and we recognize that. We grieve because down deep we know that the death of children is not supposed to happen - our grief and anguish is a sign that we know that things are not the way that they are supposed to be. But, for those who know Christ, we grieve with hope because what we see is not all there is. There is another chapter yet to be written that was begun in a stable in Bethlehem and moved on to a cross in Jerusalem and led to an empty tomb and Resurrection - a resurrection that foreshadows what will happen to all of us who have put our faith in Jesus. God is still writing His Story and He is including us in it. Aslan is on the move. The Witch's magic is weakening.
I am praying for the families and the Newtown community. My heart breaks for them and I cannot imagine the pain that they are feeling. I do understand that there is mourning and the rejection of a celebration that seems pointless in light of what has happened makes sense to them right now. But, there is another kind of Christmas - the real one - that stares death and tragedy and pain in the face and overcomes because it brings life out of death. I pray that THAT Christmas breaks out in unexpected ways in Newtown this year for people experiencing a pain that only God can understand and provide comfort for.
8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. - 1 Peter 1:8-9