To THIS world?

The other day I was listening to something Scotty Smith said – about the ‘weary world rejoicing” in O Holy Night.

There is some real truth in there, particularly relevant for many of us this Christmas particularly. The last year feels like it has been so full of sorrow, disappointment, and loss for so many (recognizing of course, that the fact that so many of us have not experienced anything more traumatic than social isolation, cancelled travel and shifting schedules is a testimony to how protected and incredibly privileged we normally are. I am perfectly aware that there are millions of people in this world for whom my 2020 would be the best they could imagine) Yes, our family has lost a lot this year. Things we were hoping for and deeply anticipating. Graduations, trips, reunions with family and friends, new beginnings – all completely thrown out. But it is good for me to remember that my 2020 experience is still a disappointment compared to my normal privileged existence. This does not mean we don’t mourn the real losses we have experienced. It means we don’t get sucked into pity and despair, and keep some sense of perspective.

Our Christmas Eve service of carols and readings with our team here is probably one of my favourite evenings of the year. As we sang through songs, specific lines were meaningful in ways they have not been in previous years. My still-yet-recovred voice means I’m merely mouthing words more than I am singing, so perhaps that puts me in a place where I have a slightly different perspective. Out of that came a few lines from different songsthat stood out to me. So here they are, along with a version of the song that I think enwraps the truth and delivers it to our soul, sometimes even bypassing our minds, in the way only music can do.

Joy to the world.

The operative word in that phrase is “to.” Not Joy from the world. Not Joy because of the world. Not Joy due to the world. Joy to it. From somewhere else. Joy comes to us in spite of or despite our world. It’s coming from the outside. We need it from somewhere/someone else because left to our own – we seem to have not the greatest record as a species of creating a world of peace, justice, mercy or joy.

Joy coming to the world is what Christmas is about at its core. True joy descending from somewhere outside of the human experience, somewhere above our ability to create it, someone more capable of it than us. That sure seems like good news to me.

A Weary World Rejoices

The trill of hope,
a weary world rejoices
For yonder brinks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born

It’s a weary world -but it’s still capable of rejoicing. We’re not rejoicing because we have no problems. We’re not rejoicing because we are winning. We’re not rejoicing because everything this going well.

We’re beaten down. We’re tired. We’re weary. Yet, we rejoice. Sometimes rejoicing is not an echo of all the joy around us, but more of a cry against the suffering. It’s an indictment of what we see. It’s a shout of protest, a cry against. We rejoice in defiance. We rejoice in the midst of our weariness.

Tidings of comfort and joy

What an incredibly powerful statement against the kind of discrimination that systemic racism used to be, and still is, in our world.

Both. Tidings of joy, but also tidings – announcements – of comfort. You only care about being comforted when you are hurting. You can only be comforted when something is troubling you. That’s what makes the message of Christmas so powerful. The news of God among us is not only cause for celebration, but is a message that brings hope, and comfort

And in his name, all oppression shall cease

Truly he taught us to love one another,
His law is love, and his gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name, all oppression shall cease

Christmas is a message of hope for the oppressed, and a battle call to the rest of us. It is a reminder that the family that has been created with the arrival of Immanuel has NO PLACE for class. There is no place for taking advantage of others. In a year when perhaps more clearly than in decades the painful reality of systemic racism has been brought to the surface, what better a song to be sung.

I think the overall theme here is that for so much of my life Christmas is a time of joy. A time of unadulterated celebration. A time where whatever little things may be bothering us are pushed aside by the joy of the season. And if not – the friends, family, parties, gift-giving, and everything else screams JOY -feeling like it can drown out the sorrow by sheer force. Concerts ringing with joy. Church services proclaiming good news. Reconnecting with those you love. And this is all good and all true. But when I take a more holistic look at the human experience I realize what an anomaly that is. I’ve never had a Christmas interrupted by war. I’ve never spent a Christmas in a refugee camp. I’ve never had a Christmas where work is completely uninterrupted because we aren’t able to stop work for whatever reason. I’ve never had a Christmas where we are hungry. I’ve never had a Christmas where I have just lost a loved one. I’ve never spent Christmas with someone I love in hospital.

I could go on and on, but the overall theme is that – obviously – I have had a life free from so much pain and suffering (due in absolutely no part to myself). However, when we sing songs that have accumulated from different seasons of history, from a few different parts of the world the picture is a bit more complete. (yet even at that – our Christmas songs clearly emergre from an almost 100% Western European /North American perspective – and even then a sub-set of those places)

There are songs that were written from places where lament, and disappointment, were woven through human experience more obviously and centrally than they often are for us. Written with fresh grief. Carols were penned during times when the author longed for comfort because they needed it. When they realized Joy wasn’t coming from this world but needed to come to it. Times of weariness. Times when oppression and abuse of power were so blatant that they cast a shadow over every Christmas gathering.

This is the more honest reading of the human experience. This coming to Christmas with longing, with neediness, with brokenness and sadness and longing and a cry out for justice and peace and pleading for joy. That is honestly where we realize we are if we are deeply honest. When we allow the trappings of the holiday to be peeled off us and get down to a more inner, true, central layer of ourselves where we often bury these feelings.

People who are winning all the time don’t need comfort. Perhaps one of the unexpected gifts of 2020 is that we can admit that is not who we truly are.