We stood tonight in the dimmed light, candles flickering in our hands, and the organ soft, just enough to guide our voices. The familiar words washed over like comfort, one of my favorite moments of Christmas each year, and always I want the song to last longer than it does. There’s something about that space and remembrance that makes me realize how infrequently life is, in fact, silent, or all is calm. There’s an ache in the peace.
Sometimes I forget the wonder that is the colliding truths of Christmas. There’s a section in Lauren Winner’s book, Girl Meets God, where she talks about the words of the old liturgy that led into the Lord’s prayer with “we are bold to say…” We lose something in the loss of those words, she says. We lose an understanding of how bold it all really is. To say He is our Father, even though He is in heaven. To say He is a King, and a Savior, even though He was a baby.
One of my favorite Christmas hymns, What Child is This?, in a portion of the second verse that is too often left off, tries to capture this:
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be born for me, for you
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
How strange it all is, that He came as a baby. How incredible that from that first moment, helpless and weak, He was already the silent Word pleading, every breath of His existence a reminder, a cry out to His Father, “You must save them! Because I am here, doing this.” The nails and spear and cross were there, in the very fact of the Word made flesh. Yet how instructive it is that, even as He was living to die, He still somehow saw the meaning in every moment of life, living it in a fullness we still only dream of.
I wonder if it was to teach us to wait.
I was talking with a friend recently about the period of time right before Jesus’ birth. For four hundred years, God was silent. No prophets, no Messiah. Four hundred years. Generations lived and died and in every moment of it, waited. And waited in a way we never have, those born after Christ, with the living and active word and the gift of the Spirit. They waited in silence…and then He was born, and for one night, for one night for those few who knew, I wonder if it truly felt that all was silent, and holy, and calm, and right in the world. But then of course, He was a baby, and they knew that still, they must live. They must wait. I imagine there was an ache in the joy.
What is this season but a reflection of the whole of our lives? The Lord knew we would need reminding, and so built into each year this waiting and hoping and rejoicing, this living out, in four short weeks, what we continue to live every day beyond it. We know the end, but we must wait for it. We are healed and we are whole and we are redeemed and Christ came. Yet we are here, and we are broken, and we are weary, and we sin, and we ache. And Christ is coming again. So all of our aching is woven to this truth: that the world is not as it should be. Our relationships are not as they should be; we are not as we should be. Not as we will be. And we ache not for ourselves or our own comfort, but for the way we know, and carry, the redemption of Christ in an unredeemed world.
On no day is there more joy than remembering the miracle that Christ came. But perhaps also on no night is there more ache than remembering that we wait, even though it is finished. The one contains the other, for we wait with assurance, a waiting fraught with eternal hope. Perhaps nothing could be more terrifying than having nothing left to ache for. And for this as well, the Lord knows we need Christmas. We need to remember that because of this miraculous day, and every one of the year that follows it, year after year…as Andrew Peterson so poignantly illustrates, “the aching may remain, but the breaking does not.”
So strengthen the weak hands,
And make firm the feeble knees…
For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert,
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads,
They shall obtain joy and gladness,
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Merry Christmas, indeed.