December 25, 2012
In our nation, and especially in Connecticut, this is a dark Christmas Day.
The twinkling lights are there as usual, but they shine with an icy irony, mocking the notion of goodwill. Where is the sounding joy, the mirth, the rejoicing that so many have sung about? Even those not directly affected by the killing of more than two dozen innocent people in Newtown 11 days ago feel that community's sorrow, share those families' grief. We light memorial candles, hold hands and mourn as one.
This is not the first time the holiday has arrived cloaked in sadness. Seventy-one years ago, 18 days after the United States was plunged into World War II, The Courant said in an editorial that "Christmas 1941 is a trial of our belief, as tremendous, perhaps, as those it has faced in the past."
And there have surely been other less-than-joyous Christmases. Meteorologically speaking, this is the darkest time of the year. Sometimes, emotionally speaking, it can also be a time of deep gloom, worry and doubt.
Tidings Of Comfort
Yet even in the darkness, there is — and always has been — another side to Christmas. It involves something other than decking the halls, wishing everyone good cheer, and happily celebrating with family and friends. It has to do with finding solace in sad times.
As the 17th-century Advent hymn, paraphrasing the prophet Isaiah, puts it:
Comfort, comfort ye my people
Speak ye peace, thus says our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness
Mourning 'neath their sorrows' load."
Other popular Christmas carols refer to "the gloomy clouds of night," "death's dark shadows," "the weary world" and "life's crushing load." Do they not reflect how Connecticut feels today? Comforting those who sit in darkness can be as much a part of Christmas as gift-giving and merry-making.
Christians find that comfort in believing that Jesus is the savior whose life provides inspiration and whose death and resurrection bring the promise of eternal life. But other faith traditions also have reason to commemorate the birth of Jesus, and to share in the comfort that his birth brings.
Islam recognizes Jesus, known in the Quran as Isa, as a mortal messenger of Allah, a mighty prophet, eventually raised to heaven by God. Many Jews consider Jesus, though not the Messiah, a compassionate teacher with much wisdom to impart — and someone born into the Jewish faith.
Even those of no particular religion can be inspired by Jesus' messages of meekness, righteousness, mercy, peace and loving one's neighbors. At this time, and in this place, mourning people need to hear of such things and take reassurance from them.
During Advent in Connecticut, as elsewhere, some churches offer what is usually called a "Quiet Christmas" service of worship. It is designed for those who have suffered a personal loss — perhaps the death of a spouse, parent or child; the pain of separation or divorce; a diagnosis of serious illness; or notice of unemployment — yet still want to welcome the baby Jesus.
Such worship is subdued, but not mournful; unadorned, but hopeful. Appropriate to the season, it is also respectful of private grief.
According to tradition, Jesus was born not during the day, but at night. As the poet Franklin D. Elmer put it:
Christmas comes in deepest dark
When in despair we see a spark
Conquering the night.
For our state, this is not a merry Christmas, but in the gloom, there is light. As the Gospel of John put it, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." May all who sit in sadness on this special day take comfort from that hope.
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