Saturday, December 17, 2016

When We Don't Want to Think About Aleppo, Especially at Christmas

Last night I went to sleep thinking about Aleppo, and the absurdity of the fact that I was thinking about Aleppo while sleeping in my comfortable bed in my air conditioned room with a full stomach, and healthy children in the room next door.  Yet somehow I am living on the same planet and I share the same sun as those described here:

"As residents began to flee, bombing continued and a steady rain began to fall. Parents holding small children by the hand picked their way over dead bodies in the streets to escape. One image showed a man with his wife ducking from shelling, holding a child in one arm and an IV bag in another, the drip still attached to the blanket-wrapped infant. Some photos showed adults holding babies wrapped in blood-soaked blankets or pushing the injured in carts as they made their way out of bombed apartment buildings. Early Wednesday morning, AFP reporter Karam al-Masri watched as a mother with a child in her arms stooped in freezing rain, desperate to scoop some spilled powdered baby formula from the mud at her feet."

What do we do with that?  The thought that a mother is frantically picking out baby formula from the mud at the same time I am picking out presents for my children just seems ridiculous.  

Yet this is life, isn't it?  All eyes are on Aleppo right now--it's about time--but what about Congo and South Sudan and North Korea and Afghanistan?  Apparently if the suffering didn't have a start date and there's no end date in sight, we just get too tired to pay attention.

The bombs drop while we laugh at Buddy the Elf and the babies cry from hunger while we decorate sugar cookies and the father cradles his maimed son while "Joy to the World" plays in the shopping mall.

So we send in some money to make the guilt go away, but what is enough?  Is it still okay to buy the American Girl doll for my daughter while the other mother picks out formula from the mud?  

The fantasy of Christmas is alluring.  We want to believe in magic, in goodness, in peace.  We want to forget the blood-soaked blankets, the stepping over dead bodies because it's too hard to enjoy the pumpkin-spiced latte that way.  Happiness feels guilty in the face of terror.

There's got to be some sort of inbetween.  We shouldn't have to ignore suffering in order to be happy.  We shouldn't need to be afraid to turn on the news because it might spoil the Christmas spirit.  

Sometimes, though, we sugarcoat our perception of Christmas.  We want the magic, the silver bells, the glittery lights, the sweet baby on the silent night.  But is the story as idyllic as we imagine?  Yes, angels sang when Jesus was born, but we forget that babies and toddlers were also ruthlessly massacred.  Joseph and Mary were hunted refugees who ran for their lives in the middle of the night.  Somehow that part doesn't make it into our Christmas pageants.  A second-grader with a sword, jabbing doll babies to death doesn't have the same allure as rosy-cheeked shepherd-children with bath towels on their heads.  

Mixing in the stories of terror and war and horror shouldn't be incompatible with Christmas.  In fact, if we really want to understand the significance of the Incarnation--God becoming flesh--then perhaps it might do us good to meditate a little bit more on that war and terror that went along with it.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

For every boot on of the tramping warrior in battle tumult

and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.

The same passage that speaks of the great light also mentions blood and burning and darkness.  There's a reason why Jesus was called the Prince of Peace.

So is it possible to experience the joy of Christmas and the heaviness of the world at the same time?  Of course.  That's the whole point, actually.  John Piper calls it brokenhearted joy.  We are not those who flit about with our head in pink clouds, but we also do not descend into despair.  We weep with Aleppo and South Sudan and our suffering neighbor, but we simultaneously rejoice in the Son,
Our Mighty God, 
Our Prince of Peace.  

Lily, 2014

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