A Lamentable Christmas
Every year, I refuse to listen to Christmas songs before Thanksgiving because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. So when I do begin to listen to Christmas music, I only listen to Christmas music and almost non-stop.
One of my favorite songs is O Holy Night. I was singing this on Sunday and was struck by this verse probably for the first time:
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 Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we Let all within us Praise His Holy name Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever!
This year, I find myself singing to the same songs I do every year. But there is deep lament in the songs this year. A greater awareness to the depth of the words and the width of the meanings.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
And in His name, all oppression shall cease
We cannot casually sing this and spiritualize this and not see the personhood in this as well. We cannot sing as though this is only a song for white people in their churches, together and yet still separate from fellow believers who are in their churches across town or the street because the way they worship has been shaped by the struggle of their skin color.
How do we then respond to songs like this?
Do we not sing them? No, we need to sing them.
Do we skip verses? No, we need these verses.
Why? Because it helps us not only worship God together, but it also shapes our theology.
So as we listen and as our theology is shaped, we need to consider what that means for us as a people who still, to this very day, participate in enslaving others.
Whether by purchasing those cheap mugs and cute shirts that cost $5 because they are not paying someone halfway around the world a fare and livable wage, or by not speaking up when there is oppression of someone of the opposite gender or different race, or working to even be aware of these things happening and how to spot them. Of the women of men who are literally stolen and sold into slavery - whether it’s sex slavery or forced manual labor.
Is there room in this season of advent, of the coming Christmas, to lament?
I believe there is.
Why? Because God came in Jesus as a man; a tangible, touchable Savior. And Jesus not only experienced every temptation we do. And because Jesus was fully God and fully man, I believe that means he experienced the hurt we do as well, yet without becoming discouraged. He was from a place, which, when named, meant he was questioned. He wandered having no home of his own. He was literally sold out by his friend. He suffered physically and emotionally with the betrayal and the abandonment of his closest friends and the false accusations against him. He was beaten. He had to physically carry the means of his death on his beaten and torn back until another was made to carry it for him.
In celebrating the coming of Jesus, this is also what we must look to.
So I believe there is room to lament.
Is there any good news to this? Yes, there is good news because Jesus did not just die. He then rose from the dead. Crazy, right?
But until then, we as Christians live with a sure hope but also in the middle of the ridiculousness of sin - of the enslaving of one another, of the brutality of our actions, of the selfishness of our spending, of all that is wrong in this world.
Has this been more clear than the year 2020? Possibly, but not in my memories.
We live in a nation that demands our personal rights at the cost of other’s rights. We are a people who invaded a land already inhabited and by force and other terrible ways, forced the native peoples into the barren places and continue to pilfer the richness found even there; not only in the people, but in the land, their land.
We are a people who enslaved and enslave other people because, well, we can.
We are a people divided in how government should run and what should be regulated and what should not; often times getting so locked up between the options that what happens falls short of what is even needed.
We are a people who cling to our views more than we cling to our Hope.
And I am speaking to the Christians. We are the worst of sinners in this. Because we KNOW the Hope and yet we continue living our lives as if none of the above matters.
But thank God that it matters to him. Because, Jesus came into the midst of the mess and lived with us in it. And I have to believe he laments at the disparity of what was intended and what is because we see him weep at the death of one of his friends even though he knew his friend would not remain dead. And I have to believe he cares more deeply than I do that people are killed by the very people we have hired to protect us.
Dear Church, this season is a season we should not look to God to comfort us so we can be comfortable, but we should look to God to comfort us so we can comfort others and that means that we get into the mess with them.
Because Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
And in His name, all oppression shall cease
And that is why we sing Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us Praise His Holy name
Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever!
By Andrea Gaston