Arlington National Cemetery
Photograph by Ed Kight

A voice was heard in Ramah,… Rachel weeping for her children;… Because they were no more.

Matthew 2:18

 

It’s Christmas Eve 1962, and I’m sitting on the floor by the wood stove, wrapped in an old blanket, drinking hot chocolate from a Santa Clause mug, and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” on our black and white Philco TV. I didn’t really understand the storyline, but I loved the scene where everyone fell into the pool at the high school dance as well as how everyone was so happy at the end. But I didn’t like Mr. Potter and it bothered me how sad everyone seemed to be. I didn’t like how George yelled at his kids, how he cried when he held Zuzu or when he wanted to jump off the bridge. I didn’t like the story of George Bailey very much.

Though the movie is a sentimental holiday classic for many, it does contain a backdrop of darkness featuring a suicide attempt by a father of four which made “It’s a Wonderful Life” a risk to release in 1946 at the end of World War II where 70 million people died. The film reminds us that there is in fact, a dark subplot to Christmas.

While Mary holds her baby boy, while the star shines in the east, and while the angels announce the birth of our Lord, darkness swells in the heart of King Herod at the news of a baby born in Bethlehem who was the “King of the Jews.” (Matthew 2:2)

Perhaps it was Herod’s fear of losing power or his quest for supremacy. Or maybe it was a sense of betrayal by the Jews, for whom he had rebuilt the temple of Jerusalem that he would respond to the voice calling from within the darkness and order the killing of all the male children in Bethlehem under the age of two. The massacre of the innocents.

This story reveals the depth of evil that existed at that time and exists still today.  However, the story also reminds us that it is darkness that makes Christmas necessary. It was because of sin that light, salvation, hope, and love came into the world by way of a small baby in a manger. Joy to the world. The Lord has come!

Opportunities to enjoy the sentimental nostalgia of the holiday season can easily be found in stores, on TV, in our brightly lit neighborhoods at night, and in the traditions that we enact. Allowing ourselves to really enjoy these experiences is an important aspect to being human, being in community, and being a part of family.  It’s good that we should enjoy all the season has to offer! Experiencing the true light and joy of Christmas however, can only be found against the backdrop of sin from which the Christ of Christmas alone can deliver.

Jesus. What I want for Christmas this year is to really enjoy the festivities of the season while also experiencing anew the way in which you brought me out of darkness and into the light of your love. 

 

By Tom Sanco