Thoughts for the season

Thu, 12/28/2017 - 10:45pm
Category: 

The following was submitted by Pastor Steve Hollaway of the Harbor Church:

December 24, 2017

Psalm 116:3-9 

This Christmas Eve, the scripture that speaks to me is from the Psalms, speaking into long nights in a rehabilitation hospital where I have lain recovering from a brain bleed and having had holes drilled in my head following a fall on a Thanksgiving morning hike in New Hampshire. 

The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; 

I was overwhelmed by distress and sorrow. I called on the name of the Lord;

Lord, save me!

The Lord is gracious and righteous,

Our God is full of compassion.

The Lord protects the unwary;

When I was kept low, he saved me. For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,

My ears from tears, and my feet from falling,

That I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

I could easily have spent Christmas outside the land of the living. The reality of the human struggle for life over death places the gift of life through Jesus Christ in a more primitive and elemental context than we bring to the pageant with donkeys and children.

During Advent, we hear words from Hebrew prophets about light in the darkness and peace in the midst of war, and of a cosmic battle between life and death. But most of the time, the stories we tell one another are saturated with cuteness. Most of us would be hard pressed to say that the Christmas story is about the triumph of a life force over the forces of death. We act as if it is much more metaphorical than that. But in the Bible, the story of life versus death is always there. 

When we read Matthew’s gospel on Christmas Day, we are reminded that the life-and-death contest surrounding Jesus has more in common with Prince of Egypt than with Frozen. My own Christmas story for 2017 has been placed squarely in the battle of life vs. death, which was always part of the Jesus story, in spite of our sentimentality.

“The Word became flesh” (John 1:14) means something new after you spend time in the hospital with the pressure of your blood measured constantly, with people quizzing you every two hours to be sure you are still alive. The story of the Incarnation becomes once again the story of life hanging by a thread, as it always does.

In the night, I have listened to hours of Christmas carols on Amazon Music, and I have been reminded that in ancient Christian songs there is a kind of bravado, a jollity in the face of the death struggle. It is always about salvation, struggle, and victory, as in this example here:

Down in a lowly manger, our humble Christ was born,

And God gave us salvation that blessed Christmas morn — not just a message of comfort and peace, but salvation from death.

And:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay.

Remember Christ, our Savior 

was born on Christmas Day, 

To save us all from Satan’s pow’r 

when we were gone astray,

O, Tidings of comfort and joy!

Or: 

Mild he lays his glory by,

Born that man no more may die.

I’m not letting anything dismay me tonight. I have been saved from the power of Satan and death. Jesus has been born so that I need not die. Thanks be to God!