Christmas is coming. The nativity is arranged, cookies are baked, decorations are in place. We even managed to get a wreath on the door this year, and the presents are all purchased. Our children are excited. My husband and I are trying, but we feel strange.
All tragedy is horrible, but it seems worse when it happens near Christmastime. Today before I sat down to write this, I looked on a few news sites, and soon my eyes were brimming with tears again. I see our precious children, ages 8, 7 and 4, reflected in each little face. My "why?" is a pale shadow compared to the grieving parents. In self-defense, we can't look too long at such pain.
How, especially as a Christian, do any of us navigate suffering? How do we find the life preserver to cling to, the rock to stand on when the waves are so wild? And how can we balance a world that contains both pain and joy so close together?
In thinking about this for the past few days I realized again that the original Christmas didn't occur in a holy vacuum. There may have been peace in the stable that night, but all around the world was up to its usual tricks. Poverty, hunger, cruelty, slavery - all were thriving even as Christ was born. Days later, dozens of mothers reeled as Herod's men killed their tiny sons, for reasons they probably never understood. Pain and joy were side by side from the start.
"In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1: 4, 5.
The light seems so small and fragile at times. The candle flickers and nearly goes out. The darkness looms large for days, months, decades. Evil marches on. In such moments, despair seems entirely logical.
The message of Christmas that I want to understand is that the light does indeed shine and the darkness has not overcome it. Christmas is only the beginning of the story, and it takes place amid the pain and heartache and joy of the real world. It is not unrealistic fantasy - it's the truest thing there is. There is evil in the world, yes; but there is also much good. I want to strengthen and uphold the good, to fight for it and protect it, to be on the side of joy and light. So this year I will say a prayer for those in Newtown, and weep with those who weep, even at a distance. I will hug my children more. I will sing carols in hope and anticipation, I will strive to make good memories for our family. I will try to remember that "though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet." In every way I can, I will uphold the light. Darkness will not overcome it.