This is an excerpt from “12 Days of Christmas Carols,” a devotional which unpacks lines of familiar Christmas carols you’ve sung for years but perhaps have never really thought about.
This morning I heard that friends of mine lost their two-week-old granddaughter unexpectedly and suddenly. I can’t even begin to fathom the overwhelming heartbreak engulfing their family. How can there be such sorrow in the world? How can we hope to endure it? And how, at Christmas, can we possibly sing songs about joy and peace when faced with such grief and loss?
In the face of tragedy, “joy” almost seems like a callous emotion, doesn’t it? There’s too much sadness, too much hurt, too many unexplained and unanswered “whys,” for singing to be acceptable. It’s all we can do to hold our heads up and soldier on. Gladness, in a world of hurt, seems out of place.
In a weary and weeping world like this, how could we possibly have joy? The Christmas hymn, “O Holy Night,” doesn’t give all the answers, but it does point the way:
A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks
A new and glorious morn
In this dark and weary world, there is a thin strand of hope and joy : the night is almost over. As dark as it is now, dawn is coming. That truth doesn’t change the darkness, or make it any less desperate. It probably doesn’t even make the night seem any shorter or less painful. But it holds out an unshakeable promise: the darkness doesn’t last forever. Sorrow does not have the final word.
To paraphrase J.R.R. Tolkein, the Shadow– which seems so unendingly dark now– will prove in the end to be a small and passing thing. Christmas is the first ray of light, the dawn set in motion by the first advent of the King. And now, light is breaking over the horizon of this world, light that will burst forth in glorious morn when the King arrives to wipe away every tear from his people’s faces with his nail-scarred hands. That day is closer today than it was yesterday; every tear we shed brings it closer. As Paul said to the church in Rome, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand” (Romans 13:11-12)
Take heart, weary, weeping believer: the night is far gone, every day brings the dawn closer. Grab hold of that thread of hope, and in the midst of tears, rejoice.