One of the most celebrated aspects of the Holiday season is its Christmas Carols. Their timeless words of peace, joy and hope along with their heartfelt and engaging melodies instantly revive memories from our past and encourage us to hope for our future. The constancy of their message and music assures us that no matter how our circumstances may change, Christmas itself will be waiting for us when the year comes to a close. But not every Christmas carol conjures up images of cozy mangers sheltering sleeping babies and cuddly farm animals; and not everyone has Christmas memories of chestnuts roasting on an open fire and halls decked with bells of holly. For many, Christmas Carols are not the resounding celebrations of new beginnings; instead, they are the clanging tolls of a broken past.
In moments of deep suffering, it is comforting to know that we are not alone. Christmas has been a bitter-sweet holiday for thousands of people from the present all the way back to the very first Christmas. In fact, one little-known Christmas Carol speaks of the pain that a woman felt not just during Christmas but because of Christmas.
“The Coventry Carol” was written in the sixteenth century as part of a larger play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. Ironically, the carol is the only part of the play that survived. In short, it is a lament: a woman’s sad cry over the loss of her child:
Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child, by, by, lully, lullay.
Herod the king, in his raging, charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight, all young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee! And ever mourn and day,
For thy parting neither say nor sing, by, by, lully, lullay.
It is usually not part of our annual Christmas reading, but Matthew Chapter 2 details what led to this tragic massacre of innocent children. After the wise men visited the baby Jesus, God warned them in a dream not to return the way they had come. He knew that if they did, Herod would question them about the whereabouts of Jesus, jeopardizing God’s plan of salvation for mankind. Verse sixteen of Chapter 2 says, “Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A cry was heard in Ramah – weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.’”
Wow, talk about ruining the Christmas Spirit. The birth of Jesus, an event that would ultimately bring about the way of salvation for all mankind at first brought only more pain. How true that is today. Many people look to Christmas for relief: relief from the pain of a failed marriage or broken family, relief from a job that seems meaningless or insignificant, relief from worries and doubts over an uncertain future. They hope that this Christmas will finally usher in true peace and goodwill toward men, but when January 1st rolls around, the hurt remains, often worse than before.
If Christmas seems over-rated to you, there is a very definite reason. It is because you haven’t finished the story! Christmas alone can never heal our wounds. Those women from Bethlehem who lost their sons would never have found comfort from their loss, had Jesus remained a little baby himself. Only his willing sacrifice on the cross could give meaning to their own sacrifices. Only his resurrection could assure them that their pain need not last forever.
As much as we celebrate this season, no amount of carol singing, gift-giving, or good-will making can take what is wrong in this world and make it right. The only hope we have is to follow the Carols of Christmas from the hushed whispers of a lonely manger to the resounding echoes of an empty tomb. If we can do that, then and only then will we be able to proclaim openly and honestly that “the hopes and fears of all our years have been met in Him tonight.” Merry Christmas!!