The words to Christmas carols are hitting me in a new way this year. We sing them every year, but certain phrases are jumping out this time around and sticking with me.
Like “tidings of comfort and joy.” Wow. Who doesn’t need some comfort? Who among us doesn’t feel a little bit beat up by the frenetic pace of life, the difficulties of today’s economics, the greediness of politicians, the abuse of power by those who have it, the unfairness of society, or maybe just by the selfishness of those around us? Especially this time of year, when you add Christmas shopping and holiday traffic and expectations of The Perfect Holiday Decorations/Food/Gift to the normal grind. I’m raising my hand. I could use a little comfort. The emotional equivalent of fuzzy slippers and hot chocolate in front of a nice warm fire would be good just about now.
And joy, too. I like to people watch. It’s what I do at red lights to pass the time when I’m first in line – you get a really good view of the faces of drivers who are turning left onto the street you’re on. So I can tell you, for the most part, people look miserable. We need some joy. Not happiness, which is fleeting, but joy, that deep joy that roots in your heart and can’t be budged by circumstance and situation.
So yes, some tidings of comfort and joy are just the kind of news people want to hear. Where do we get this comfort? Where does this joy spring from? People want to know. People need it.
I went to a Christmas Eve service tonight. It was packed – the semi-annual Christmas and Easter crowd was out in full force. I wondered, though, how many of them were searching for comfort and joy in the traditions of religion and church attendance, but were not finding it because their favorite carol wasn’t sung, or the decorations weren’t like they remembered at the church they grew up in. It’s easy enough to do – to look for the right thing in the wrong place.
The problem is that when spiritual matters are relegated to the realm of personal choice and cultural preference, as opposed to the realm of fact and truth, it is actually hard to find comfort in faith. In fact, when faith is considered, as it is by so many today, to merely be a form of personal expression, it’s pretty empty faith.
It might feel good for a little while — along the lines of Christmas Spirit and That Holiday Feeling — but if these tidings of comfort and joy, this good news that is sung about in so many of the traditional carols, is not based on truth, then it is actually of less use than the Santa Claus myth.
Faith is not something you experience or feel. It’s something you believe, and if you are trying to put faith in something while at the same time keeping your options open as to whether or not this thing is actually true, you will not reap the benefits of your faith. Faith is not the thing that brings the benefits – the truth of the person or concept in which you put your faith is the only meaningful source of benefit.
The writers of these carols meant it when they offered tidings of comfort and joy. It wasn’t just a Hallmark sentiment, like dreaming of a white Christmas. They were referring to something with which they had first hand experience.
Like this verse from It Came Upon A Midnight Clear:
O 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;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
These words were not written along the lines of Rudolph and Frosty. These writers sincerely believed in “glad and golden hours.” They were talking about something they were counting on. They had experienced relief from “life’s crushing load” and wanted others to know about it.
Did they want to tell others about this because they would earn points by doing so? There are religions that foster some kind of a point-earning system, but in this case, no, these writers weren’t trying to impress anyone. They wanted people to know because it worked.
If you were to visit a primitive tribe somewhere, and noticed that they were constantly sick because they didn’t wash their hands, would you withhold the information you had about the existence of germs because you didn’t want to influence their culture or offend them? No, you would tell them you knew a better way, because you wouldn’t want them to suffer with sickness any more.
The world today suffers under a great sickness of heart. A quick glance at the headlines of any given day will tell you that. So when someone says they have any answer that will bring peace, joy, comfort and salvation, it might be worth looking into. Maybe that person is not just participating in a cultural ritual. Maybe they are telling you the truth. Perhaps their delivery is not flawless. People are, well, human. But even if the messenger is not perfect, maybe the message is true. Maybe it might be worth having a discussion about it with someone whose life reflects the sincerity of their belief, because if it truly works for them, it will work for you too.
But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” Luke 2:10-13
A nice story to read at Christmas time or a history-altering event wherein God Himself came down to earth in order to set people free from the things that so easily entangle them? People are spiritual beings, so just as it’s worth reading up on foods that will help your body function better and exercise that will keep your body healthy, it’s worth spending time looking into the things that heal and nurture your spirit. It’s worth your time to explore tidings of comfort and joy.