As my roommate and I were finishing our meal at a restaurant in Denver last night, a trio of women came and sat at the open spot at the communal table at which we were dining. We exchanged some brief pleasantries, and at one point one of the women started talking about her colleague who just couldn’t be happy during the holidays. “It’s Christmas!” she exclaimed. “It’s the season of joy!”
For those that know me, that expression on my face that a sarcastic comment was coming was planted on my face.
I refrained. She had a point, it is the season of joy. It’s the season of expectation, the coming of the Christ. Joy is supposed fill the air. The magical, paradoxical event of God becoming human is here.
Yet, there is so much pain, so much loss right now. We all certainly feel this on an individual level, but on an (inter-)national level we see systematic racism, senseless mass murders, refugees in need of home, yet denied such access. We still see beautiful individuals without houses, children starving, and military conflict around the world. How can we not become despondent?
The question I keep asking myself this Christmas is what is the balance between experiencing joy and experiencing pain? That is to say, is it right to be joyful and see an abundance of hurt? Is that a tension we can, or should, live in?
In a time of contemplation this morning, it dawned on me that a guide to this existential question has already been provided. O Come, Emmanuel. I reflected on this phrase for some time today, allowing it to permeate my mind and heart.
The significance of O Come, Emmanuel provides two places of refuge. One, it’s anticipatory. We need the Christ & his presence. The coming of Christ was precisely for moments such as the ones in which we currently live, and to provide guidance for our lives. Second, O Come, Emmanuel is a petition. It’s one we need. This morning I repetitiously prayed O Come, Emmanuel to come and bring peace to those who desperately need it in these times: the refugee, the many people experiencing bias firsthand, the houseless person, the lonely, and the despairing. Likewise, I prayed for humility to come and soften the hardened hearted and the ignorant. May we stop doubling down on our positions to be correct about and become acutely aware of the needs of others. In the season in which we celebrate the coming and birth of the Christ, may we likewise understand Christ’s narrative in a manner which prompts us to go and do likewise.
O Come, Emmanuel.