“It was a cold, gray day near the end of December. The East Wind was streaming through the bare branches of the trees, and seething in the dark pines on the hills. As the cheerless shadows of the early evening began to fall the Company made ready to set out.”
So wrote J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings as a small band set off on a rescue mission for their entire world. They knew their task would cost them dearly, but they had steeled themselves, and were ready to begin.
Even so does Christmas come as a beginning. The angels’ song gave glory to God in heaven, but peace on earth (reconciliation with God) could come only with the completion of the work which he had come into the world to accomplish. Much remained before that could happen. Still to come were the long, hidden years of infancy and youth, the brief tumult of the public proclamation of the Kingdom, the preparation of the sometimes slow-learning Apostles, and the agony of Gethsemane and Calvary yet to be endured. It would be a long, hard road, now only just begun. It was still the “bleak midwinter,” and not yet spring.
Yet – even in winter’s cold dusk – Christmas is a time of joy: the “baptismal” kind of joy we feel when a beginning has been made, when things have finally begun to move. At Christmas the angels appeared to shepherds and sang the glory of God. They sang their praises of his plan, made from the day of creation, now beginning to unfold. The manger at Bethlehem, and our Christmas Communion, place us where we need to be if we would be a part of that: on our knees in Jesus’ presence amid the humble squalor of his birth. From there he will take us with him again each year, to walk that road which leads at its end to his heavenly glory, where death and winter have no place.
The shepherds caught just a glimpse of that when the angels sang. Perhaps just a glimpse is all that any of us can bear this early in the healing process. We are not ready; we are only just wayfarers still. But it was a true glimpse, a jubilant harbinger of the full joy that will be ours at journey’s end.
A blessed and happy Christmastide to one and all.
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