A Melancholy Christmas

Due to the COVID crisis, this Christmas will be unlike any Christmas I have ever experienced. With each passing day I hear about another Christmas party or Christmas program that has been officially taken off the books. To me, If there is a word that best reflects the 2020 holiday season, it’s the word canceled.

At a time of year when we usually are running from event to event, in reality we are finding more and more empty spaces appear on our calendars. How disconcerting it is to feel separated from others at a time of year when social interaction is at its peak!

As I talk with people, I hear a lot of disappointment about what might become known as “the lost Christmas of 2020.” And why are people feeling so dispirited? I’d say its the challenge of having to cope with a Christmas where opportunities for laughter, mirth, joy and human connection keep being thrown on the scrap pile. For every gathering or event that is canceled, we absorb one more loss. When it comes to enjoying our traditional, beloved Christmas activities, instead of being a season of delight, Christmas 2020 is turning out to be a bit of drag.

Yet, if I think about it for a moment, Christmas 2020 has a lot in common with everything that was going on at the time of Jesus’ birth.

Prior to the arrival of Christ, there was among a desperate longing for the arrival of a Savior. Israel had been promised a Messiah, but many were wondering why it was taking so long for the Messiah to appear. (Perhaps some secretly worried if the Savior would ever show up.) One of the reasons for such forlorn emotions was because it had been about 400 years since God had given Israel any sort of special revelation. For those who were waiting, their wait took place in dark silence.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is the mournful O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Through both its melody and lyrics, this carol attempts to convey the feelings among the people prior to the time of Jesus’ advent. Emotions of longing. Sentiments of sadness.

Perhaps for some, hope was waning.

A simple reading of the lyrics of this song reveals a struggle between the weariness of waiting and the anticipation of better days:

O come, o come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the son of god appear
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel.

O come, thou rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of hell thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel.

O come, thou day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel.

O come, thou key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel.

O come, o come, thou lord of might,
Who to thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel.

For us, we hope that Christmas 2021 will be better than this year’s pitiful version. But for the people who lived in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah, the hope was that God would make everything better! Through the Savior, God would finally restore the shalom that was so desperately needed.

Perhaps we also need to be reminded that when it comes to the Biblical Christmas story, things weren’t void of pain and struggle. Remember, Jesus was born in poverty and obscurity. And his family had to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath.

As we go through a Christmas season that may be emotionally painful, perhaps we can connect some of those emotions to what was going on in the world at the time of Jesus’ birth. Maybe God can use our loss to remind us of our state of lostness before we trusted Christ. Remember, the joy and hope we love to celebrate at Christmastime cost God an incredible price: the death of His son.

Maybe a melancholy Christmas isn’t so bad.

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