Written by:Bill Dohle
Pastor, St. Paul Lutheran Church
Ever stopped to listen to the words of some of the Christmas carols we sing? Past familiar tunes and the memories attached to them, there’s usually a story involved. With or without Jesus in the picture, our Christmas carols say a lot about how we feel during the holiday season and how we think the story of Christmas should end.
Take the familiar carol: “Do you see what I see?” This year our Sunday School Christmas program is centered around this song. It’s a haunting melody that follows the news of Jesus birth from the lips of the Night Wind into the hands of a Mighty King. Though not technically biblical, it does illustrate how the news of Jesus birth can spread.
Unfortunately this carol, like many, fails to follow the Christmas story past the manger. In the song, the news of Christ goes from the shepherd boy to the mighty king who in turn announces it to the people everywhere. “A child, a child, shivers in the night. He will bring us goodness and light.” That is not what happens in Scripture. When the mighty king (i.e. King Harod) hears that Jesus is born, he does not announce his birth to the people as one who will “bring us goodness and light.” Jesus is renounced as a threat and sentenced to death. In fact, according to the Gospel of Matthew, many infants die because of the news of this child’s birth.
And yet we persist in our optimism. Why? Why do we insist on ending the story, not with the tragic death of the infants, but with the hope of a king who will announce the child who brings goodness and light?
I’m not sure why we remain so optimistic, even in the face of the tragedy in the story, but this isn’t new. It is the same optimism that King David has as he praises “the king” in Psalm 21. These words, written about the ruler of the land, describe a person who has been granted his heart’s desire. Whose every request has been answered. A person who is greeted with rich blessings and given the gift of long life. This ruler’s victories are great because he trusts in the Lord. This one is welcomed with blessings with a golden crown on his head.
Sadly, this optimism doesn’t hold true either. No king, including King David himself, was ever this fortunate. No king ever lived this way. Both King Saul and King David suffered tragedy after tragedy. One might wonder how these optimistic words ever came to David’s heart. All around him were signs of sadness.
Reading these words reminds me of our Christmas carols. Such optimism. And yet, even the infant king whom angels greeted and magi met was crowned, not with gold, but with a crown of thorns. He lived no long life, but died cursed and hanging from a tree. And yet this king meets us like no king of David’s imagination could. Because he knows tragedy and defeat, this king can meet us in the tragedies of life. Because he died cursed, he can meet us in the curses of our lives. Because he lived a humble life and not in a palace surrounded by blessings, he can meet us in our humble lives. Because of all of this, this king meets us where no one else can, becoming greater than even David could imagine.
This king is greater, even than the happy endings we sing, for this king meets us where we are.
King of kings, you come as no one has before or since. Give us eyes of faith to see your presence, even in the tragedies of this world. Amen.