It’s been awhile since I’ve been on here. As some of you know I was participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) throughout November, which roughly translates to me spending every possible scrap of a second trying to write fifty thousand words of a story before midnight on the thirtieth. Suffice it to say, I have emerged from the self imposed prison victorious. The sky never looked so blue.
But what did I find when I returned to civilization? Newspapers bleeding red and headlines shaking their fist in rage. I saw mud flung from one side to the other, missiles of blame aimed at parties, people, and ideas in response to the continuing groans of a world simply staggering under the weight of sin, of brokenness.
But through the aching and the dissonance I caught the haunted strains of a familiar joy stubbornly weaving its way through the tears. Frost dancing, splintered diamonds in the morning sun. Evergreen sprigs studded with holly gems of red. Lights strung throughout darkening streets. Stockings, and crinkling paper, and laughing fireplaces, and all wrapped around by the heartbreaking melodies of carols that cry, “Love has come!” Christmas is here once more.
But sometimes in the whirlwind of traditional preparations, doesn’t something about it strike dull and hollow? For certainly the cries of the starving and the iron-crush of evil seem to grind away at the merrymaking, to call the bluff of the voice that sings peace on earth and goodwill to men. Is it foolish to dance joy on the surface of a planet decaying under the tread of violence sown with disease, and hunger, and lead? Is joy to the world merely a desperate myth perpetuated to stave off the raw truth beneath the hem of Santa Claus’ robe?
One of the oldest known Christmas carols was born over five hundred years ago, and the familiar lyrics begin, “God rest ye, merry gentlemen.” Unlike the official church hymns sung in Episcopal Latin at the time, this was carried by the laymen, the common folk and sung in their own speech. However, the layers of years have since eroded the language of the time and overlayed the words with new meaning.
When we hear “merry,” we are tempted to think gay, happy, and carefree. But a truer translation of the original term would be “mighty.” Thus Robin Hood’s merry men were called as such not because of their lighthearted nature, but because they were warriors, they were mighty men. Digging deeper, a full decoding of the first verse of the carol would run something more like this:
God make you mighty, gentlemen!
Let nothing you dismay!
Remember Christ, our Savior,
Was born on Christmas Day
To save poor souls from Satan’s power
Which long time had gone astray,
And it is tidings of comfort and joy!
But can it all be true? Is this joy tangible, is it real? To some it might look as though we’re merely binding glittering tinsel around a grievously gaping wound, as if sprigs of holly and a few greeting card sentiments of good cheer were enough to staunch the flow of blood just long enough to pretend we aren’t really dying. As one recent newspaper even put it, “God Isn’t Fixing This.”
The truth is that the sixteenth century poor might have known better. We are not dismayed, because the love of a perfect and infinite God came to this earth to wrest all dominion from sin, and pain, and death. It is great joy, because Christ came. And it is tidings of comfort, because it is true. God came; He did fix it. And Christmas is a time that we set aside to actively remember, to cling to it, and to let grace hold the hurting in nail-pierced hands.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “The joy of God has gone through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish...but finds God in the midst of it...what matters is the joy that has overcome. It alone is credible; it alone helps and heals.”
The heart of the undismayed does not bear the mark of naïve optimism, but rather their laughter is a measure of their merry faith—of their mighty faith. For the true foundation for joy is not mortared with optimism but hope.
Joy always exists in spite of something else; that’s what it means to live in a fallen world. But we can embrace the hope and peace of Christmas even in the midst of immense suffering, because the unbreakable truth is that the power of God is strong, it is present, and it is mighty! Hear the good news, He has come and his love alone shatters the fetters of bondage, and only the death and resurrection of one who fully knows our sorrows can heal the scars of darkness with the light of his presence.
Peace be with you this Christmas, and may your burdened soul sink down beside the manger, where God came not to ignore the heart-rending tears of sin clawing ugly gouges across the world, but to embrace it, to feel it, and to take it upon himself so that it might be swallowed up forever by his fierce and unfathomable love. God make you mighty this season. Repeat the sounding joy now and always, walking in the assurance of the greatest and truest reason for joy that ever has been, ever is, and ever will be again.
Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place
Like we true loving brethren,
Each other to embrace,
For the mighty time of Christmas
Is coming on a-pace.
And it is tidings of comfort and joy.
Note: History of “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman” found in the book Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas, by Ace Collins.
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