The Dark Side of Christmas

An excellent article by Amy Welborn, who reminds us of the sword of sorrow that hangs over the virgin’s head as she gazes lovingly at the babe in the manger.

Excerpt:

The message is clear and hard: Following this baby, as he reaches to us from the resin manger, looking out at us with the soft-eyed cattle and docile sheep, comes at a price.

There is an edge to Christmas, a harshness, and a different kind of promise than that implied by the easy words of peace and glad tidings. It is a mystery, all of it. The Word made flesh indeed, but into a world that was from the beginning set against it, that sought with every bit of strength at hand to stay in the darkness.

So it was that our baby’s baptism was on that day, December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The heart skips a beat now. Not so fitting, perhaps, as we contemplate the lovely soft living baby being washed, but in the shadow of sorrow.

My baby’s baptism in Ohio was, according to earthly judgment, a disaster. The weather was miserable, icy, and cold. No one’s cameras would work. The bishop decided we might as well immerse the baby fully, which was okay with us, but turned out to be not okay with the baby, who commenced screaming his lungs out at the unexpected bath, and not okay either with the bishop’s elderly mother, who was quite horrified. And circling around us the whole time was our three-year-old, who seemed to have absorbed the demons driven out of his brother during the exorcism part of the rite, and who would not, in the face of many and varied threats, be still. He raced like � yes � a demon, in and around the church, constantly, through the whole affair. I’ve helped out at many baptisms in my work in parish ministry but this one was, I think, the worst.

But perhaps it was more fitting than it first appears. Trivial problems, yes, but still an apt metaphor for the Christian life begun there, and yet to come for Baby Michael: not the warmth of a tidy, neat manger scene, with everyone gathered in comfort, calm, and peace, but something startling and new, a shock to the system, entered upon in a world of frustration and discord, circled by forces intent to disrupt.

Glad tidings of comfort and joy, and Merry Christmas indeed. But without awareness of the risk of discipleship, and the reality that the baby in the manger ends up hanging on a cross, those words have about as little power to change the world as “Happy Holidays.”

Reminds me a bit of the lovely essay by St. Teresa Benedicta of the cross (Edith Stein) on the nativity that my dad gave me a few years ago. Like Amy’s essay, it reminds me that the wood of the manger aptly prefigures the wood of the cross. 

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