My mother was born on Christmas Day. Her father, when I was a freshman in college, died on Christmas Day. We had always opened gifts on Christmas morning, but for some reason I can't recall we opened them on Christmas Eve that year. Granddad died at 3:00 a.m. We have opened gifts on Christmas Eve, after the candlelight service, ever since. Since that time, Christmas has always held a kind of dissonance for me: celebrating my mother's birth, remembering my granddad's death.
But isn't this part of the season's glory? Not just that the Baby was born, but that He died? Had He been born and not died, we would still be dead in our sins. And His death and resurrection remind me that the death that claims ever more people I love has been long conquered. Death's victory is hollow and temporal; the Son's is filled with glory and eternal.
John Donne said it long ago:
DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
It is a wonder indeed that He came -- yet an even greater wonder that His mission in coming was to die.
As I travel to visit my parents and other family (taking perhaps a hiatus from the web), I pray for you who read a blessed Christmas, that as you celebrate with family and friends you will remember why the Baby was born and allow the wonder of His death -- for you -- to wash over all that you do.