Christmas: Darkness and Light

Author: Steven R. Tracy, PhD

We are entering one of the most significant seasons in the Western world—Christmas. Our senses will be flooded with holiday sounds, smells, foods, and events. Culturally and economically, much of the year revolves around this season. Ninety-five percent of Americans say they will celebrate Christmas. Economists predict that we will spend over one trillion dollars on Christmas shopping, amounting to up to 30% of annual retail sales. We will purchase some fifty million Christmas trees, and innumerable Christmas carols will be sung in churches and shopping malls alike.

Unfortunately, however, the “tsunami” of holiday traditions and activities can easily drown out the real meaning of  Christmas. For instance, a survey by the American Bible Society revealed that twice as many Americans plan to watch the TV version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol than those who plan to read the biblical Christmas story (only 15% of adults). And only 28% of 18-34 year-olds know the basic facts of the nativity story, such as what brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth.

So how should we understand the Christmas message? And how does it relate to Mending the Soul?

It is helpful to step back and look at the origins of this end-of-the-year holiday. Early in church history (AD 336) Christians in the west began to celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25. One of the most probable reasons they chose this date is that it closely coincides with winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year. This is beautiful symbolism; celebrating the coming of Jesus into a sin-scarred world on the darkest day of the year. And it perfectly fits the biblical data. In Isaiah 42:6-7 we read about the coming Messiah, the one who will give light and hope to those suffering in darkness and bondage:

“I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

Later on, Isaiah expands on the liberating ministry of the coming Messiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” Isaiah 61:1-2

The liberating, healing ministry of Jesus is affirmed when he came. Zechariah prophesied that Mary was carrying the Christ child,

“Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79

It is very significant that Zechariah said Christ would “guide our feet in the way of peace.” To an ancient Jew, “peace,” shalom, had very rich connotations. For them, peace was much more than the absence of conflict. It referred to wholeness, flourishing, healing. Sin breaks shalom. It brings death, bondage, and brokenness. So at its core, Christmas is about restoration and healing.

In this sense, Mending the Soul is fundamentally a Christmas ministry. “Mending” is in our very name. Our mission is to help those wounded by the sin of abuse find restoration and wholeness. God calls all of us, in our own way, to engage in the redemptive mission of Christmas throughout the year. Thus, I will close with the brilliant words of the late Howard Thurman, a courageous African-American theologian and civil rights leader:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
            —Dr. Howard Thurman

May we together celebrate and boldly proclaim the liberating birth of our King!

 

 

 

Steven Tracy, PhD
President and Founder, Mending the Soul Ministries

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