A WORD FROM THE PASTOR: Dark December?
Has it ever occurred to you what a truly crummy month December is?
Think of the environment it provides for us. It’s cold, of course. And there’s a fair amount of precipitation—rain and even snow. But worst of all…it’s dark. December is a long trek through days that are eaten away at both ends by increasing gloom. And finally, at the Winter Solstice, the tide of gloom is turned back…but until then, the month is pretty depressing.
And December carries with it lots of bad memories. To begin with, how about the back-to-back anniversaries of Pearl Harbor and the death of John Lennon (not the snarky, know-it-all scold from the 1960s, but the 1980 house husband and loving father who penned “Beautiful Boy” and donated body armor to the NYPD and embraced Jesus while watching evangelists on TV). Such a double downer would drag any month down. But then memories come of the many other bad things that December has brought us. The PanAm airliner bombing over Lockerbee, Scotland…the Christmas market terror attack in Berlin…the Tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands in Asia…the tragic deaths of copper miners and their families in Michigan, immortalized by Woody Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre”…the German counterattack in the Ardennes that led to the desperate fighting of “the Battle of the Bulge.” Yes, December is a pretty wretched month.
But the month also…glows. Glows! It glows like a house draped with a thousand lights. It glows like a Swedish girl with a Saint Lucy crown of candles on her head. It glows like a Grinch heart that instantly expands three sizes. It glows like a misanthropic miser who dances like a schoolboy and opens his heart to humanity after a long, ghost-filled night.
What makes this irredeemably depressing month glow?
It is, as Smokey and the Miracles tell us, “one special little guy.” That’s right. It’s a baby. A newborn youngster turns the crummiest month on the calendar into a time of absolute joy and wonder and magic. December babies bring joy to hardworking taxpayers, but this little tyke brings joy to the world! And He takes this dark and damp month, this irredeemable month, and…redeems it!
And that’s not the only thing He redeems…He redeems, of course, the entire universe. The universe that fell into sin through our first parents, the universe cursed by unrighteousness. That broken universe, for those who see by faith, now glows with the love of God. (Hey, did you notice the early Christmas present that our faith got? A mainstream scientific study suggested that all living humans are descended from a single couple. Gosh…where have I heard that before? Or, as one of our members commented on Facebook: “Yes, and I think I know their names…” The study even suggests that most animals derive from a single original couple of their species. Hey Noah, did you hear that?)
The December child also redeems you and me. This month encapsulates the dark side of human existence—sometimes it seems our whole life is a journey through gathering gloom. “Human life has no meaning, but I do plan to have a good lunch,” declared a famous scientist to Richard Dawkins. But it would take a lot of lunches to redeem a meaningless life. When we know the little-December-guy-who-brings-more-than-a-tax-deduction, then life is not a meaningless journey into gloom. It is a glorious pilgrimage of faith.
We know that Little Guy grew up to face a darkness deeper than any December…the darkness of the cross. But we also know that in that darkness, He triumphed; He took away our guilt; He brought us into the family of God and the joy of God. Now the darkness has become a place where His light glows all the brighter! “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5)
Two wartime scenes that capture both the darkness of December and the glow that the Child brings: Christmas 1914. Soldiers of several nations face each other, entrenched on the front line. Most of the soldiers have a Christian background. So as the sacred festival arrives, they call a truce. They meet in No Man’s Land. They share food and brandy and cigarettes…they even play soccer. For a moment the darkness of December dissipates, and the glow of the Child dominates. This moment captures the imagination. Many songs have been written about it—most of them have historical inaccuracies, but are moving nonetheless. Listen to John McDermott’s “Christmas in the Trenches” and try to keep your eyes dry! And the event has spawned a fine film (“Joyeux Noel,” with one of the most unforgettable endings I’ve ever see in a movie), and a play that is currently being performed locally. The idea of Christ bringing peace to a World War I battlefield makes one think of lions and lambs and wolves and goats all lying down together…in a world that has been redeemed.
The second wartime vignette comes from a former president of my University (Duncan Wimpress was his name). He was an infantryman during the battle of the Bulge. And on Christmas night, as he stood watch in his foxhole, he heard a fellow soldier playing the harmonica. “Silent Night.” And in the midst of that night, so fraught with peril, there came the glow, an invisible glow that did not benefit enemy snipers…as that simple melody brought redemption to dark December. (Dark December, by the way, is the title of Robert Merriam’s classic history of the battle of the Bulge).
As you make your way through the gloom of December…and as you make your way through life…may you always be wrapped up in the glow…
God loves you and so do I!