Though the liturgical calendar reminds us that it is Christmastide, a lovely 12-day season extending to Epiphany in January, you cannot live in this culture without experiencing how the air is let out of the holiday balloon on December 26. The Magi may not arrive in Bethlehem until January 6, but the culture abruptly drops the whole matter practically before Christmas Day is over.
All of the Spirit’s labor—the pruning of our imagination, the background work on our expectations—comes to fruition on Christmas Day, when we are brought into the Presence. The virgin who for nine months has been weaving the veil of the temple out of the material of her own body sits in stupefied and exhausted silence.
Last November I traveled to a restful location outside of Kampala, Uganda, to spend three days with African Christian leaders who are trying to address the destructive conflicts in their countries. They represented a “United Nations” of Christian denominations and traditions—Baptist, Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Pentecostal and Mennonite.
We children of the Enlightenment do not regularly linger over such elusive experiences as dreams. We seek to “enlighten” what is before us and to overcome the inscrutable and the eerie in order to make the world a better, more manageable place. We do well in our management while we are awake, and we keep the light, power and control on 24/7.
On Christmas day we join choirs of angels and raise the strains of “Joy to the World!” Our children sing sweetly of the little Lord Jesus so peacefully asleep on the hay that he doesn’t cry out when animals wake him with off-key parts to the lullaby. But then the music changes drastically. We hear wailing and loud lamentation. Ancient mother Rachel weeps inconsolably over the loss of her children. Must we listen to this? Have we no season to block out the sounds of grief?