Darkness and Joy


December 14, 2017

As I begin writing this (December 8) I have played only one Christmas carol. Does that goof you up? Let me fill it out a bit more. My wife has had Pandora going at home a couple of times when I arrived in the evening, and I played it week before last when we put up some decorations at the Chapel, where I serve. Yes, it was Christmas music.

What’s up with me? Am I an increasingly grumpy old man? If you think so, enjoy this music video which I immensely enjoy! My friend Jay Moore shared it with me a few days ago (and just a couple of days after that, he had a heart attack! But he’s doing well, due to a series of “only God” events and circumstances). It is becoming one of my favorites.

What splendid noise and celebration! Can a grump love that? I do, am not a grump, and have watched and listened a few times already.  So what’s going on?

I want to more intentionally practice the gift and discipline of waiting.

I don’t want to succumb, as I did for many years, to the obligatory side of our cultural celebrations. No more 30 straight days of Christmas music night and day. No more having them start to stale by Dec 19.

It makes me think of college football bowl games. They used to be exclusive. It took something to be in one. Now, as I check, 40 bowl games are scheduled this year over a two week period. That’s 80 teams, of 130 in the nation. To make it to a bowl game means little now. If you can put 11 people on either side of the line, you have a good chance.

New Year’s football used to be a fun tradition. The big bowls happened that day. There was suspense and anticipation. Now there are so many I lose track, and they all have corporate names tacked on. It’s like having my favorite pecan pie daily for a month, sponsored by Hulu, or something. About the fourth day the flavor is overbearing.

Never mind.

It seems our culture knows little of the concept of “too much of a good thing”.

I don’t want the Incarnation Celebration to be like what it often seems to be:

  • Overkill
  • Hype
  • Blizzard of sight and sound
  • Beat last year’s display
  • Play more songs than last year
  • Create an escape pod at home
  • Striving stressfully for the slippery “Christmasy” feel
  • In the end, glad it’s over

More carols will be sounding in my sphere, the closer we get to the First Day of Christmas. Savoring will be going on, for all 12 Days of Christmas. But it won’t be the normal cultural roller coaster, at least for me. December 25 is when it will just get started.

The past couple of years I have been seeing the joy go deeper and more lasting in life. And here’s a strange juxtaposition: darkness has manifested. So much trauma in our world, and in my small circles sorrow and anguished waiting has increased in just a few months, several of these in the past few days.

  • A seeming healthy vital man quickly descended and surprisingly died earlier this year. How do you die when it’s your legs giving you fits?
  • Another strong, generous, open-hearted friend started a quick descent into the throes of ALS and his condition is flirting right now with the end of life.
  • Our pastor’s wife currently suffers excruciating shoulder pain, radiating from her neck, that essentially disables her – right in the season she usually is busy playing beautiful music.
  • A lady in our congregation has battled 7 years with a persistent cancer and has been extra sick most of the past 2 months.
  • A young lady in her 30’s, connected to our people, child of dear friends of ours, died of a rare, aggressive esophageal cancer, after being carved down to skin and bone.
  • My wife’s brother-in-law in Iowa lost his brother, due to a heedless driver pulling out in front of their van as they were traveling to serve incarcerated people. So he’s grieving and has estate responsibility thrust on him, who was already dealing with 3 estates. This just two or three days before his birthday. And three weeks before Christmas.
  • A young couple we know surprisingly loses an unborn child. Heaviness and grief.
  • Several relatives suffer serious disease.

There are more, all in my little circle.

The past two weeks there’s been a burdensome heaviness on me. I have shed tears, aching for others.

ian-espinosa-348171

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

But these circumstances are not influencing my changes in Incarnation perspective.

They were underway even before my diagnosis 15 months ago. It’s the growing realization that joy underlies it all, and that it is right and good to feel the burden that others feel. To feel sad and sorrowful with them.

It’s what we Messiah followers are called to do. “Bear one another’s burdens, and fulfill the law of Christ“. The burdens are real, causing grief, weariness, and muted expressions. Bearing them is real. Bearing is hard. But it’s good.

The other day I started an 18-day course from Jon Acuff. (Too late to sign up now.) The first thing I encountered was instruction to write a poem, no matter how bad. The idea is stretch yourself, improve expression, and over the 18 days accomplish things you may not have otherwise.

A poet I am not.

I attempted. What follows is the result. There’s no rhyme, so I guess you can call it hybrid free verse, because every line has five beats, so it’s not entirely free verse.

This expresses a slice of what I have been carrying. Maybe it does for you, too.

Things go dark and I
don’t know what to do.
O, but I do know.
Ask, intercede, plead.

So much trauma, pain
Overwhelms mind, heart,
Vitality leaks,
Severe illness and
Too-soon death arrives.

Personal health fight
Deepens trust in God.
The Almighty nears.

Silently present,
Mysterious touch,
Not describable.

In other words, Immanuel – God is with us. That is reason for deep joy. And also deep consideration of sorrow. After all, the Messiah came to die. And Christ – Mass refers to the death of Christ.

Changes how we think of “Merry Christmas”, doesn’t it? “Merry Death of Christ”!

It is a privilege from God to bear burdens.

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