The Guardian ran a story this week “We need the darkest Christmas stories. These are dark times”. Basically its message was that the writer was sick of glitz and cloying schmaltz and wanted a bit of of pagan magic with her mince pies. She mentions several darker stories but doesn’t actually get down to telling us why times are so dark. I guess it’s obvious!
Trump threatening nuclear war in the Korean peninsula, the imponderables of Brexit, homelessness on the rise, strains on the NHS, protests against the government in Argentina, Spain and many other countries, the ongoing fight against ISIS, the terrible war in Yemen, sexual harassment of girls, FGM, the list goes on.
So we want to drown our misery in glitz and schmaltz or do we stare into the darkness of our own darkened souls and despair? Or is their alternative?
The real Christmas story offers such an alternative. What could be darker than the Nativity? Suspected adultery, possible divorce, astrology, a despotic king plotting the death of a rival, a Middle Eastern family fleeing oppression, infanticide, and displacement of a vulnerable family to a foreign country: and that’s just Matthew’s gospel! Definitely not for the children. One can hear the outraged headline in the Daily Mail.
“Children traumatised by ‘realistic’ Nativity. Is this what Christmas is about?”
Well, frankly, yes. It is about all these things. It is about danger to the vulnerable, power plays by the despotic, scandal, murder and uncomfortable foreigners. That is exactly what Christmas is about.
But into this darkness comes something else. The baby and child at the centre of this whirlpool of dark forces, brings hope. Not the hope of escape from the darkness, because, as we know, thirty years on, he is the victim of, just as dark political forces jockeying for position in an equally deadly game. Rather, the hope this story brings is hope in that darkness. It is the hope that says, despite all the evil, despite the machinations of the rich, despite your utter impotence to escape, God is there, he is still there.
God doesn’t give us glitz and schmaltz to drown our sorrows. He doesn’t forces us to look into the dark soul of human despair. Jesus Christ shows us a reality far grittier than any Oliver Stone movie but the hope is that God still in control. There is, in C.S. Lewis’ words, “the deeper magic”. This is the deeper magic of resurrection.
A Methodist theologian from Uruguay, Federico Pagura wrote a Tango about this.
Because he entered the world and history;
because he broke the silence and agony;
because he filled the earth with his glory;
because he was light in our cold night.
Because he was born in a dark manger;
because he lived sowing love and life;
because broke hard hearts and
raised the downcast souls.
For this reason we have hope;
For this reason we fight with vigor;
For this reason we look with confidence to the future (in this my land).
Because he attacked ambitious merchants
and denounced wickedness and hypocrisy;
because he exalted children and women
and rejected those that burned with pride.
Because he carried the cross of our griefs
and savored the gall of our wrongs;
because he accepted to suffer our condemnation,
and so die for all mortals.
Because a bright dawn saw his great victory
over death, fear and lies;
now nothing can stop his story,
nor his eternal Kingdom nor his return.