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A bit before sunset on Christmas Day I ended the day of our Lord’s birth picking up toys and the contents of a diaper bag out of the snow. My son and I had been in the house when we heard vicious and profane shouting from next door. The boyfriend of the young woman from next door had ejected her and their infant son from his truck followed by a car seat, diaper bag, Christmas toys, and an assortment of other items that ended up on the easement near the street. After a bit more profanity-laced screaming and tirades from the man, he roared off. I went out to help retrieve the hapless Christmas presents and such and to make sure that the young woman, her baby, and her mother were OK. When I got back into the house, my son sadly mused “Some Merry Christmas.” Indeed.
We all know that we have this tendency to feel worse about certain things if they happen near or on Christmas. The same car accident, the same death, the same . . . well, the same anything that would make us feel bad enough if it happened in mid-June somehow feels worse to us just before or on Christmas. It’s probably a mark of how much we have over-sentimentalized the season that we have come to believe that if it’s not all Currier & Ives cozy and all Norman Rockwell folksy, it’s a bad Christmas. Or better said, that it’s a spoiled Christmas.
Years ago on the TV show M*A*S*H, Hawkeye, B.J., and Margaret are desperately trying to keep a mortally wounded soldier alive. It was Christmas Day, you see, and the doctors and the nurse did not want this man’s family forever after to associate Christmas with their dear one’s death. But when the soldier heaved out his final breath around 11:35pm anyway, Hawkeye went to the clock on the wall and moved the hands ahead to 12:20am. “Time of death, 12:20, December 26” he said. And they all falsified the medical record to spare the man’s family such a sad Christmas association.
It’s how we think. And it’s understandable. It’s also just wrong theologically speaking. These are all the very reasons Christ was made human in the first place. What little the Bible gives us in association with the incarnation of God’s Son is not sentimental but clear-eyed realism. We’ve got a birth in the abode of the animals, redolent of urine and excrement. We’ve got common shepherds, redolent of the tang of body odor and whatever cheap wine they’d been drinking to keep themselves warm on the hillsides that night. In Matthew’s Gospel, not long after the birth, we’ve got dead babies and weeping mothers.
Yes, I felt the events next door the other evening cast a bit of a pall over the day, not so much for my family but certainly it was a dark cloud for the folks next door. I am sure it spoiled their day. But ours is a world of spoiled days and spoiled years. Not a few of us are leaving 2016 behind full of sadness for events in our families, on the world stage, on the political front at home, and we have no certainty 2017 is full of hope. But anger, violence, shouted profanities, and a baby’s toys tossed angrily into the snow cannot ruin Christmas, cannot ruin the incarnation.
In fact, such things validate God’s daring plan. God has made his move. As someone once noted, it was checkmate against the devil and all evil from the first cry emanating from the tiny lungs of Mary’s baby. The decisive move back toward hope was made. Nothing can ruin it. Everything can be saved by it. Thanks be to God.