Lindsay Stallones over at Evangelical Outpost has posted a meditation pretty much guaranteed to bring us all down. In We Need a Darker Christmas, she notes that the true Christmas story is not a merry and bright Claymation special:
There are people all around us who haven’t learned to pretend as well as we have. They are the artists and poets. They can’t look away from what we refuse to look at, the overwhelming awfulness of this existence. Their words are hard to hear, and they threaten our carefully constructed worlds of nice and happy. We want to sing “I’ll be home for Christmas” with Bing Crosby and ignore the millions who will mourn when loved ones don’t come home this year. We want to watch Disney’s latest nature adventure with anthropomorphized penguins, but don’t want to think about the fact that the polar bear cubs will starve to death if they don’t eat the cute seal pups. We love to quote John the Baptist when he proclaims the coming of Christ, but we end the story long before his grisly, senseless death. We wrap ourselves in the happy part of the story and try to ignore the rest.
It's a well-reasoned piece. It reminded me especially that, in spite of constant appeals, in sermons and advertisements, to the joys of gathering with family and friends for the holidays, more people every year (due to societal change, personal choice, and plain misadventure) actually spend the holiday alone, longing for the Bedford Falls Christmas they may or may not remember from their own childhoods.
I am, in fact, one of those people this year. This isn't unusual for me. My extended family will be gathering on a later date, and I have no nuclear family of my own. No doubt there are people I know who'd be happy to invite me to join their own celebrations, but honestly I'd rather they didn't. I suffer from a shyness disorder that makes gatherings including strangers (or even certain acquaintances) extremely stressful. In Dickensian terms, given the choice between attending Nephew Fred's party and sharing the punch with a room full of people, most of whom I've never met before, and huddling in my chamber in the dark, next to the fire, eating my solitary bowl of gruel, I'd opt for the gruel most nights.
But it occurs to me that my membership in this burgeoning demographic of Christmas solitaries qualifies me, perhaps, to speak words of comfort to others of my tribe. So this is for you, Misfit Toy, bench-sitter at the Reindeer Games. Not many writers will address you this season, but I will.
When I go to the gospels and look for a lonely person in the biblical Christmas story, someone people like us can identify with, I find… nothing much. Joseph and Mary were away from home, but they had each other, and it was Joseph's ancestral town, so there were likely relatives (there's some evidence that the manger may have actually been located in a sort of multi-purpose room, adaptable for sheltering animals or guests as the need arose, attached to the house of a relation). The shepherds seem to have been gathered in a group when the angels appeared to them. The Wise Men were a company of unspecified number, and probably showed up months later anyway.
But wait. There's more to the story. In the very same chapter in which Luke penned his peerless account of the nativity (Luke 2, if you didn't learn it in Sunday School), you can read on and find the story of what happened just eight days later, when Joseph and Mary observed the Law by taking the Baby to nearby Jerusalem, to have him circumcised. There we read of two apparently solitary people who immediately recognized the promised Messiah, and found complete spiritual fulfillment in Him.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.”
We traditionally think of Simeon as an old man, although the text doesn't actually say that. I think it's a fair surmise, though, since his response suggests he'd been waiting for just one thing, and was otherwise ready to die:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.”
We are told, further, of a woman named Anna, who is specifically described as “very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
What we have here is a man, probably old, who had been waiting a long time for something that never seemed to show up.
And we have a woman who'd been a widow for more than forty years.
These are my kind of people.
They weren't there for the party at the stable. They had to wait a few days. For some reason, God doesn't give everyone their Christmas gifts at once. Some people have to wait a while. He doesn't explain why.
But the gift comes, according to His schedule, not ours. If you're not a shepherd or a wise man, you may be a Simeon or an Anna.
They thought it was worth the wait. Don't give up.
And merry Christmas.
Lars Walker is the author of several fantasy novels, the latest of which is West Oversea.