Given that a year of mourning has been declared in Thailand, Christians here have been wondering, how should we celebrate Christmas? How can we sing those happy songs when our beloved king has recently passed away? When the conversation turns to such a topic, I would sometimes remark, why not sing a sad Christmas song? And people would go ‘huh?’ because they have never heard of a sad Christmas song.
They’re right, of course, because the birth of Jesus Christ is the happiest event which had ever happened on earth (well, his resurrection probably ties with it). That God would personally enter creation to seek and save the lost – it caused the angels to break into the grandest ‘flash-mob’ in history. A sad Christmas song seems a paradox.
But the story of Jesus’ birth can sometimes seem like a far-off fairy tale. Not just in Thailand, but everywhere in the world there are so many reasons to be sad. The angels sang that there shall be ‘on earth peace,’ but look at the state of this world! Protests against leaders (for right or wrong reasons) are happening in Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The ‘War on Drugs’ in the Philippines has exposed the addiction, corruption, and brutality of so many people. On the other side of Asia, conflict in the Middle East has not ceased, and the ancient city of Aleppo is being emptied as you read this. Russia’s involvement has led to its citizens being targetted by terrorists. Both UK and US held important voting events this past year, which has made clear how divided their people are. Less publicised is the violence in Africa: for example, genocide could have happened in South Sudan and we would only be aware much later.
So 2016 has not been a good year in politics, be it in SouthEast Asia or elsewhere. People are asking, what’s wrong with these national leaders? Even in democracies, what went wrong? I don’t think it’s surprising. See, people are sinful, so democracy would mean that a sinful majority elects a sinful candidate to lead a sinful society – what do you think we can expect from them? And in non-democracies, the people in charge are also sinful, just as each of us are. But maybe in all this, we can better understand why God calls the nations to repentance, for there is forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ.
We must also remember that Jesus was not born in an era where ‘all is calm, all is bright,’ (though he did bring peace and light). The Roman empire was in a protracted conflict with Persia, the other superpower in that age. Though Jews then were not at war, they were oppressed by the Romans. As you know, mass infanticide was carried out at Bethlehem soon after Jesus’ birth. It was into this world of sin, strife, and suffering which our Saviour was born into. Few then knew the magnitude of the moment. Some scholars saw the sign of a star – they were probably Persians who risked their lives travelling into Roman territory – and went to worship Christ. And a number of shepherds on night-shift were notified by an angel, so they went to see. Those were the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. Today, nearly the whole world knows of the Christmas holiday. But this is not a time to make merry and forget about the reality of this fallen world. This is still the same world of sin, strife, and suffering which needs the Saviour.
2000 years ago, no one but the angels sang. But Jesus came despite the sadness. So sing today. Sing despite the sorrows in the world or your personal life. Sing with tears in your eyes if you must, for the joy which Jesus Christ brings is not for a day, but for an eternity. And one day, he will wipe away every tear from your eyes.
So I’d like to share one of my favourite Christmas songs here. It isn’t happy-sounding like other songs are, but there is comfort in its portrayal of the reality at Jesus’ birth, and what it means for us today.
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.