We, in the northern hemisphere, are through the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice. Today, the days start to get longer, little by little.
Last night, lots of churches marked the night with a service acknowledging that in this season that is supposed to be about hope, peace, joy, and love, many of us are carrying heavy burdens and feeling less than festive feelings. Especially in this strange and difficult year. Even those of us who have made it through relatively unscathed, can’t help but know, deep down, that St. Paul is right when he says that when one part of the Body suffers, we all bear the pain.
It makes sense that in this season of Advent, when we name our longings, our hopes, and our needs, we would pause from carols and lights, presents and cheerfulness, to sit with our hurts, pains, and losses as well. It makes sense because, if anything, the Christmas story makes clear that God doesn’t show up in the world, in our lives, just when things are right and good. God also—especially—shows up to a weary world, a world in need of freedom, people in need of deep comfort and healing.
It’s instructive that the angels show up to shepherds. Shepherds were the low rung of the social ladder. Their burdens weren’t ours, but it’s safe to bet that they had some. They had not much going for them, and every reason to wish that the world were different. That they are the audience for the heavenly choir reminds us that thing that has come to pass, this good news of great joy for all people, is good not just for those who have it all together. In the strange way of the gospel, it’s good for the least and the last, first.
In the end, the Christmas hope is that the Beatitudes are true: that it’s the poor and the peaceable and the persecuted, the mourners and the meek and the merciful, who will know God’s kingdom and comfort. God is not afraid or ashamed of the stuff in and around us that is quite a lot less than not perfect. In fact, the Christmas story is the promise of God’s readiness and willingness to join us in that stuff—all the muck and mire—and bring new, unexpected, even impossible life.
Whatever way you are coming into the Christmas season, may you know the God who comes close, no matter what. And may that fill you with all the hope, peace, joy, and love that your soul needs.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. May it be so.