The past couple of weeks, I’ve gotten to hear two high school choirs perform their Christmas concerts. Of course, they would call it their “Holiday Concert,” or even their “Winter Concert” these days, which is fine with me, to be honest. And while much of the music that they sang was Christmas music, it was almost all nonreligious, which again is also fine with me. But as I listened to them singing, I was struck by how melancholy so much of that Christmas music is. “Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” they sang, with recurrent references to troubles being out of sight, and being together someday “if the fates allow.” Or “I’ll be home for Christmas” but maybe—even probably “only in my dreams.”

Of course, those two Christmas songs came out during World War II, and most of us can just imagine what those Christmases must have been like. Families were separated. A brutal war was raging whose outcome was far from certain. Many would never come home again, for Christmas or for any other occasion. And so, the melancholy made sense

And it still does. The world, our lives are not all that we thought they’d be. Some children know that Santa’s not on his way to them with lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh. And when the weather outside is frightful, the truth is that there are many people who do not have a fire that’s so delightful. The truth is that Christmas does not really change things for the better.

Of course, if we allow ourselves to learn from the religious roots of Christmas, we will discover that the story never promised a perfect world, a perfect life. When Jesus was born, a brutal military dictatorship was in charge where he lived. It could turn the whole world upside down with a taxation scheme. And it could turn so violent that it made Jesus and his parents refugees, running for their lives, leaving behind home and family. Christmas did not change any of that, according to the Bible.

“The light shines in the darkness.” That’s what the Bible says about Christmas. There is darkness to be sure, but there is also light shining. And Christmas is the invitation to join with others to shine light in dark places. For while Christmas does not change the world, it can change you and me into agents of hope, working to create joy to the world—every part of it.

–Pastor Don Steele

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