The child is born, Christmas is arrived!
It is finally time to get on our Merry!
My family and I, we know how to merry our Christmas in fine fashion: heirloom and favorite decorations, festive music, stories upon stories, present openings, fires, and really really good food, like homemade rolls and sticky buns (made with butter and cream), roast duck, mashed potatoes (made with butter and cream), sugar browned potatoes (made with butter and sugar), red cabbage, sautéed leeks (made with butter), and for dessert, Danish rum pudding (made with a lot of cream and less sugar than rum) and Rød Grød med Fløde (which translates into red pudding…with cream).
Revealingly, as we were finishing the last morsels on our plates I couldn’t help but note that not one morsel on any of our plates had anything to do with the gorgeous greens still-heaping from the ignored salad bowl at the end of the table.
This morning, we made merry again, finding Santa’s treasures by the fireplace, and eating Danish æbleskiver (made with beer and butter), and ultimately settling down before a fire while Karl and I play countless whirls at Angry Birds, and Else curls up and happily reads her new books, and together we watch the winter storm snow fall down later this afternoon.
We’re settling in for some days of quiet and cozy merry.
But here’s an interesting thing: turns out that the word ‘merry’ comes from an Old English word meaning ‘short-lived.’
It seems as if merry’s connection to glad things came about by way of that old saying, “time flies when you’re having fun.” No merriment at all makes for long-lived, interminably lasting moments, where as pure merriment seems to come and go so, and so fast.
So Mary and Joseph softly and merrily cradle this kid of theirs, but within just a short spell, they are fleeing the wrath of Herod, a wrath that wipes out all children under two (note this deeply moving tune [perhaps one of my favorite Christmas carols] by Bruce Cockburn, which mentions Herod’s slaughter).
And in just a handful of years, this baby Jesus grows up, gets himself in a heap of trouble with just about every authority you can imagine, and ends up dead on a cross.
It was a very short-lasting merry Christmas for the Holy Family.
Everything that one imagines for a merry Christmas (sometimes, honestly, also thereby setting oneself up for disappointment when the time comes but the merriment doesn’t) is what we hope for all people: good family, good food, good drink, good merriment.
Indeed, it’s precisely what Jesus loved to seek out and savor when he came of age: just read Luke and see that the guy was forever at parties!
He loved the merry. Was all over the merry.
But the truth is, the world is not universally merry, and even when we ourselves enjoy the merry, the experience is intense, because we know that it is fleeting. Accidents happen, illnesses come to pass, jobs are lost, relationships end.
These days, we are acutely aware of the power and presence of terror, and poverty, and abuse, and environmental degredation, and lying and hateful rhetoric and xenophobia not only present in our political system, but in our presidential politics and politicians–which and who are even quickly gaining momentum and support in 40 percent–40 percent!–of polled Republicans!
There is nothing merry about any of that.
The world is not persistently or universally merry.
And God knows it.
As we hear from the very opening words and chapters of the Gospel of John–a gospel that skips the Christmas story entirely–God loved the world so completely that God sent the Son, not to condemn the world, but to save it, because it needed–needs–some saving, not to mention more merriment.
The name that was bequeathed to Jesus means, in Hebrew, ‘to save.’
Not ‘to be merry’ but ‘to save.’
With the candles of Christmas held as we sing Silent Night, with our children tucked in with sugarplums dancing over their heads, with the wrapping paper piled high for recycling or kindling, with the snow falling gently outside of warm windows, we dare not forget that the Reason for the Season is that the world needs some saving, not to mention more long-lived merry.
And it needs less terror.
Less ice cap melting.
Less species dying.
We who claim Jesus as our Christ, who are Christians, who celebrate Christmas, we are called not just to savor the merriment with those who are us, and who are like us, and only on this day.
In fact, we are called to spread the merry, and not just in this season, but because of it, all year round, by way of how we treat our loved ones, how we treat our enemies, how we treat the strangers, how we treat the homeless and the sick and the poor, and how we treat our votes (which determine not least of all and in no small measure how the stranger and the homeless and the sick and the poor are treated), how we spend our dollars, how we spend our lives.
Jesus was born, Jesus came into the world, to save the world: to bring it health, healing, and wholeness, because there wasn’t and isn’t that now.
I think he also came into the world, and through him for us, to offer the world more merry: merriment that will be not just short-lived, and not even just long-lived, but rather lived.
May you have, enjoy, and savor your merry Christmas, and may your merry be long-lasting, and so brimming as to break through and linger beyond the season!
Thanks for another year of great posts, Dr. Madsen. I appreciate your way of offering insight and joy, clarity and realism.