Christmas, 2020 – Light and Life

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
ris’n with healing in his wings.
Mild, he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die,
born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth.

Merry Christmas, Feliz Natal, Joyeux Noël, Feliz Navidad!

By whatever words we use to say it, we say it.  We wish one another a merry, happy, joyous Christmas.  Of course, part of it is just tradition. We wish a happy day on all our holidays, though I have sometimes wondered about wishing someone a happy Memorial Day.  But that is a topic for another day.

I have been thinking a lot about Christmas this year and what makes it merry – or if we should even consider it merry. I think we should.  So why all this thinking? It may be that for the first time in many years I have time to think rather than to plan or organize or rehearse this or that Christmas event.  It may be that we will be spending Christmas with grandchildren for the first time in too long.  It may be that we are coming to the end of a long year which in so many ways has been anything but merry, happy, or joyous.

Yes, Becky and I are celebrating Christmas this year. While the stockings are yet to be hung by the chimney with care and the grandchildren are not yet nestled all snug in their beds, we are just about ready. I say “we” with great thanks to Becky who makes most of what we have ready. In fact, the glass nativity on our mantle and pictured above is something she made many Christmases ago, and I love its place on the mantle above our fireplace in the new house.

Even the weatherman is cooperating with our Christmas plans. He is promising a 65% chance of a couple of inches of snow on Christmas Eve.  What is an almost-three-year-old from Memphis, Tennessee, going to do with his first snow?

We are looking forward to a merry Christmas, even, especially(!), in 2020.

More on 2020 and the hopes and fears for 2021 next week.

We’re looking forward to a merry Christmas. Full stop.

But Christmas is happy in a way that no other holiday can be, and its joy is not dependent on snowfall or any other circumstance. Even 2020.

Christmas is not a birthday party. It is a celebration of the Incarnation – God taking human form and likeness.  “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate diety,” Charles Wesley tells us in Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  In the third stanza, Wesley borrows words and images from the prophets Isaiah and Malachi, from John’s gospel, as well as from Paul’s hymn to Christ in Philippians 2.

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all he brings.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4–5 (ESV)

I have been thinking about Christmas. I have been pondering the deep theology of the Incarnation and marvel more than I understand.  I have been reflecting on the light and the life Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, has brought into my world, into my very being, in 2020 and for all the years I have known him.  Death has come near – or reminded us he is always here – in 2020. Death has come close to my life before 2020, as well. Jesus reminds us, me, that he is the resurrection and the life.

Jesus who brings grace upon grace (John 1:16) brings an unyielding assurance that ever-present death will not have the final word. Jesus who brings grace upon grace fills our lives, our here and now lives, with joy beyond all measure.  Not the growing pile of presents under our Christmas tree, though I can hardly wait to see them opened, but the gift of Becky and our children and grandchildren and all the ways they reflect love. The gift of an undeserved and wonderful group of friends who encourage and sustain. The gift of a church family and ways to serve in and through it. The gift of health and well-being in all sorts of ways.

Light and life to all he brings, ris’n with healing in his wings.

Thank you for reading these Observations each week. And Merry Christmas!


P.S. Two Christmas gifts for you from two very different, but equally fine, educational institutions:

1.  The Choir of King’s College Cambridge singing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”

2. The students of Hunting Park Christian Academy sharing this year’s Christmas program with all of us.