No matter how wondrous and joyful we would wish our Christmas to be, there is, for many of us, an indisputable dark side to the season. Most of us who sense it will vainly attempt to shove the feeling aside. We will try to drown its morbidity in purchases, decorate our homes against its depressive grip and resist it by sheer force of will. But the darkness is there…patiently waiting for the large or small irritants that stimulate its feeding frenzy on our souls.
As it is today, so it was at the original Christmas. The majestic echoes of the angelic chorus announcing Christ’s birth to shepherds had barely begun to fade into the hills when the petty puppet king, Herod, ordered the slaughter of all the first born male children of Bethlehem. One wonders if the agonizing wail of mothers and fathers who watched helplessly as the tender flesh of their flesh was mutilated, somehow resounds down through the ages to protest another Christmas.
An acknowledgement of this unfathomable travesty grew up in the early Catholic tradition. The so-called, Festival of the Holy Innocents was celebrated on December 28th in the West (29th in the East), a remembrance of those lost little ones who became the first Christian martyrs.
Jesus was spared from this mass murder when an angel warned Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt. There are those who see that intervention as an act of grace set against an historical testament to the evil men do. Others keep the focus on God and wrestle with the notion that He would warn one family of the coming catastrophe but not all the families. (All but the most faithful and the most deluded will struggle with that kind of divine selectivity when they face their own individual dark night of the soul, regardless of the fact that his death was merely a postponement rather than an annulment)!
So is there a way to “do” Christmas well in the season when the symphony of heavenly hosannas clash with the cacophonous cries of dying children? Perhaps. Perhaps the key is in allowing ourselves to attend to both concerts – the mournful as well as the joyful – rather than insisting on just the one.
Even though dated after Christmas, enter into the season anticipating first the concert of tears – the spiritual residue from the Festival of the Holy Innocents. That’s the world you live in, whether you notice it or not; within you, but certainly without. It’s a hard, hurtful and hungry world…insatiable and unrelenting. Rather than shutting your door to the sounds of their cries, open your door and hear them…honor them with your attention and decide how you will embrace even just one of them. If the gospel of Matthew is right, something of your salvation depends upon it!
Unless I miss my guess, as you attend to the concert of tears, its ominously heavy and dark movements will subside as quickly as you respond in love to someone in need. You’ll notice the angry percussion give way to something new, powerful and glorious…something that will lift your soul and transform more than just your Christmas!
The true light has come into the world and the darkness cannot extinguish it! But the light can’t be found in the malls or under ornament-laden trees. It’s found in the faces of the poor in spirit, those who are in mourning, those who are hungry and thirsty and those who suffer persecution.
If you’d like, we have a lot of the hurt and holy innocents – children waiting for sponsors – and Christ lives in every one of them. Can we find one for you?