It's been one of her favorite carols since my brother was little. I think he was in first or second grade when he sang it at his Christmas program - the Coventry Carol. She told me a few weeks back that she looked up original lyrics. It suprised her - the darkness of that song. How it's all about babies dying at the hands of a ruthless king.
Thou little tiny child.
Bye Bye Lully Lullay.
That song just won't get out of my head this Christmas. And, honestly, it doesn't feel very merry. I don't really feel like decking the halls. I feel more like putting on sackcloth and ashes. It's all of these children. Innocent little ones with such tremendous burdens to carry, such incredible battles to fight.
It's my sweet baby cousin and all of the precious little ones who have to fight against disease.
It's the beautiful little girl whose own momma can't care for her and all of the dear children who don't know the love of a parent.
It's the kids who work in sweatshops and the little seven year old boys who climb trees with machetes in their mouths to harvest cocao beans.
It's the children who have been shot down in my own land and the children around the world who live in the constant shadow of violence - who live every day knowing they may not see the light of another.
It's the children stripped of their homes and their families and their innocence - their lives sacrificed to fulfill the insane desires of the more powerful.
Vulnerability is so easy to exploit and it happens every day. Innocent ones suffer at hands greedy for power, for money, for fame...for who can tell what? And it turns my stomach to think that in so many parts of this world the massacre of kindergarteners is nothing out of the ordinary. How many 5,6,7 year-olds the world over live everyday life in the shadow of unspeakable violence? How many kids the world over die before they even see that age?
And how can we be merry in the sight of all this? It's supposed to be perfect, isn't it - Christmas? Shiny and glittering and happy and...wonderful? My tree has gaps and it has been bumped into it and lights have been pulled off and ornaments have been knocked off. The kids throw fits and all of our favorite traditions just don't go the way they should. And the to-do list is so long. But every time I spend a dime on someone I love, every time I do something to prepare for our own celebration, all I can think of are all of those lovely people in this world who have never heard, never felt, "I love you." And it's making me crazy just how much I care about all of the stuff that doesn't matter at all.
And we light the candles:
And that song echoes through it all. Haunting.
Lully Lullay, thou little tiny child. Bye Bye Lully Lullay.
It haunts and it reminds of the baby king who was born into genocide. God chose to come in the form of the most vulnerable and Jesus was born in an occupied land under the rule of a powerful king who was set on taking his life. Sweet, innocent ones slain at the order of a madman and the Son of God was a refugee.
How many mothers cried in Bethlehem? Jacob's Rachel died there and she named her baby boy Ben-Oni, "son of my sorrow". And her daughters cried tears for their own sons when they were slaughtered at the hand of Pharoah. How many times does this history repeat itself? How many times are the innocents slaughtered? And Emmanuel came to be with us in the midst of it. Right in the middle of the pain and the anguish and the filthy evilness of this world.
I've spent all this time trying to feast, trying to celebrate and Rachel cries and refuses to be comforted for all of her dead children and I just want to cry with her. I'm not in the mood for feasting. My heart wants to fast. I want to fall on my knees and cry the tears. It's my realest response right now.
This Christmas feels so far from perfect.
But, then, isn't that the story? How Emmanuel is God with us in the midst of reality? Funny how we paint that stable to look so warm and quaint and cozy. But there are some things that you just can't put a rosy spin on. This world is a mess and our lives are a mess and Jesus came right into the middle of it all. Emmanuel. Is there any more loving response? And we've spent all this time gearing up for the celebration that we forgot about the wait. We are waiting!
We light the candles every Sunday night and we thank God for all of the hope, the peace, the joy, the love which are ours through the Christ. We celebrate that God loved us enough to come.
And other songs play through my mind and don't we notice every year how funny it is that so many of the Christmas songs are in a minor key? How they always leave you longing for...something?
And maybe it's really ok that Christmas doesn't feel so merry this year. Because maybe Christmas is less about merriment and more about joy - about joy that comes when we remember that what we are hoping for, what we are longing for is coming. Forget shallow happiness that comes with perfect trees and perfect presents and perfect experiences. I want to live the kind of joy that comes with knowing that God has come and he has promised never to leave no. matter. what. and he has promised to come back and make it all right. Something unbelievably wonderful is coming. And joy radiates on even when "merry" is miles and miles away.
So we wait and pray and fast and groan for his return, for the time when he will forever fix what has been broken. Rachel named her son Ben-Oni. But Jacob gave him a new name: Benjamin. "Son of my right hand." And isn't it funny how God just keeps doing that? Keeps renaming his people? Abram to Abraham. Jacob to Israel. Saul to Paul. And all of those Ben-Oni, all of those sons of sorrow? Won't he give them a new name, too?
Christ has come and Christ will come and we can trust in a God who would be with us here.
I heard it on the Christian radio station - the announcer talking about how sad it is that there are people who can't give their families Christmas. And I can't help but shake my head and smile, because who of us can give Christmas? It is God's gift to give. I'm sitting here, on my knees crying out for all of the innocents who suffer and in the middle of all this mess, I feel the presence of the God who came and the God who is coming, the God who loves each precious child with a fierce passion. And up bubbles the joy that blows that elusive "merry" clear away.
We celebrate the hope, peace, joy and love that are ours in Christ and we look so eagerly forward to the day when all hope will be fulfilled and we will dwell forever in peace and joy and love. We wait and we pray, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!"