Dangers of Christmas 2017: Ignoring the Darkness
A few years ago the Huffington Post featured an article on the 12 dangers of Christmas. The article focused on fire safety during the holiday season. They covered everything from your Christmas tree drying out and catching the drapes on fire to burning down your home while preparing your roast beast. The article had me thinking, what if there were other dangers during Christmas? What if, aside from falling off your roof while working on your light display and over roasting your chestnuts, there were hidden dangers during the season of advent that most of us overlook. So I decided to write about the dangers of Christmas we often ignore.
Now, a few years later, I have enlisted the help of some friends, colleagues, and noted theologians to share the dangers they see every year during Christmas.
Up next, Rev. Ryan LaRock.
Most of us, by now, are probably tuning into local Christmas radio stations, or you have dug out your favorite Christmas CDs and stocked up your car for the next month or so. I don’t know about you, but on occasion, I have to switch radio stations whenever certain songs come on that tap into my tear ducts. The ones that tug at my heartstrings to the point where I don’t want the drivers next to me to see me sobbing. And whether it’s a song like “I’ll be Home for Christmas” for its nostalgic feel or the contemplativeness of “Silent Night” with images of candlelight church services in my mind, there are moments where I am tempted to change the radio to something more light and joyful. Tears will never cease to drop from my eyes when I hear the haunting melody of the classic French Carol, “O, Holy Night.” As a French major in college, I have come to treasure this song’s original title “Minuit, Chretiens” or “Midnight, Christians.” For me, it captures the anticipation of the fullness of what we expect year after year. Relentless stirrings of a chaotic world, longing for an earth shattering shift upon the stroke of a holy midnight. What is it about the night and themes of darkness that show up throughout Advent? And why do we often hear about Christmas being a gloomy and sad time for many?
I think one of the dangers of Christmas is when we ignore the darkness surrounding it.
The dispirited road it takes to arrive to the joys of Christmas morning complete with its warm monkey bread, plaid pajamas and gifts on gifts on gifts. A season where many of us feel overwhelmed by disparity in our individual hearts, our families’ lives, and in the world. One Advent, I will never forget December 14th, 2012. While writing Christmas cards with my college friends at the UVA Wesley Foundation, news headlines flashed before our very eyes as we attempted to process the news that 20 children and 6 staff had succumbed to senseless violence at Sandy Hook Elementary. In a sobering way, we are still in this spot. Faced with horrific violence, corruption within the government, and stories of assault breaching the polished surfaces of our media every day, numbness is not exactly the best posture we can take. Many of us find ourselves wanting to ask what I refer to as the “Letterman Top 10 Questions Surrounding God’s Providence,” not limited to “Where is God in all this?,” “What is a faithful Christian response?,” and every pastor’s favorite (sarcastic) cliche, “It must have been God’s time.” But we forget the very period of darkness where those same questions were likely being asked. By a woman named Mary, a man named Joseph, and a nation struggling to accept if indeed this Jesus was to be the long-awaited Messiah. A setting where a notorious king who went so far as to have young, innocent children massacred for fear he would lose prestige and power. In Matthew, we hear of “The Massacre of the Innocents”:
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; he refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18 NRSV)
Some of you might be tempted to skip over this part (as do most of the movies and children’s sermons do). It doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story that currently sits on your end table or on the fireplace hearth in the form of the manger scene. But it is a dark moment in an otherwise hope-filled story that reminds us that even in these spaces of chaos and void, Christ continues to break through. We might argue, in that very moment, all questions of God’s providence and relationship to creation were confirmed.
And so as we continue the Advent journey, perhaps our questions should not be seeking to rationalize God’s presence because we know the pinnacle of the story. Instead, may we allow that time to be one of trusting expectation, knowing that the principalities and powers of this world continue to shatter at the foot of the most unlikeliest of places and in the most peculiar of forms. Our danger rests in omitting the troubling and yet, equally necessary piece of the Advent story. For the darkness, in so many ways, carries us to that manger scene, even today. It’s what conditions our hearts to respond to the injustices that prevent God’s hope for the world from breaking in. It’s the message we treasure of “Do Not Fear” that challenges any innkeeper’s efforts to push away the stranger. Any political ruler’s efforts to divide and conquer. And as Christians we cannot cookie cutter the story and splice it together with all of the fluff and niceness you would find in a Hallmark Christmas special. If we don’t dwell in the darkness of the Advent story, we deemphasize the ongoing work of the incarnation. Christ dwelling among us, taking on the very flesh you and I wear. We tell the story always anticipating the mystery of our faith present in the Communion liturgy, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” I return to “Minuit, Chretiens” because it begs us not to forget that in many ways, we as Christians are always living at the stroke of midnight because of what took place in Bethlehem. As “Midnight Christians,” we are living at the threshold knowing that although we are still in darkness, the light has already erupted in our hearts.
Rev. Ryan LaRock is a commissioned elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving as the associate pastor at Christ Church in Fairfax Station, Virginia. Ryan is a tattooed preacher who enjoys extending his ministry to local coffee shops and craft breweries in Northern Virginia. He writes at The Holy Awkward.