When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’ – Matthew 2:16-18
When Christ comes peace on earth is declared, but within a couple of years unspeakable horror happens. This week we saw that violence appear in a new form, but once again children were targeted in a tragic repeat of the murder of the innocents in bethlehem. Only a few years back another incident occurred in Newton. Cycles of violence continue in this world, and it is in the midst of violence and bloodshed that we are told to anticipate Christ’s return.
The Christmas season is not a simple season full of fun and good tidings. It’s full of very human and worldly experiences. People with lost loved ones grieving, people in poverty so deep they cannot afford a present to exchange with their children, people who have lost children. Pain, deep pain, marks the holiday.
My own family lost my Grandmother on Christmas Day about 12 years ago.
Yet the angels announce “Peace on Earth” and the apostles tell us to await the day and the hour and the church tells us this is a season of hope. And they’re right, but that doesn’t make it less painful.
Hope isn’t really necessary in times of plenty or times of utter happiness. Properly located it’s within grief, loss, and moments that look like despair. The peace of Christ isn’t a peace that makes perfect sense to us with human reasoning and analysis, instead it is a peace beyond understanding. A peace that transcends the situations of the world and the moment and is anchored properly in the scope and scale of eternity.
Christian Hope is a hope for a resurrection.
Christian Hope is a hope for a kingdom of justice and mercy… and above all or a proper relation to all, love.
Mourning accepts that hope into itself while immersed in the grief and pain of loss of separation from those we love. Hope doesn’t lessen the immediate pain except by providing a solace within the scope of eternity while we are focused very much on the immediate. Mourning properly understood is both the welling up of pain within us and the rituals by which we express that pain in actions and words.
Mourning then takes on a certain role during anytime, but especially the holidays – or the times in which our culture recognizes and ritualizes the importance of the familial and relational. The rituals of the holidays are not empty but relationally binding, and while rituals such as this can take a tole on us they can also remind us of the hope to come.
Artful morning is taking the rituals of grief, of praying the psalms that vent our true frustrations into the world, and living them out well. Let us all live out our rituals: express our frustration with the world as it is, the pain and suffering as they are, and embrace hope that goes beyond our impressions of this world and the futility of laboring for a kingdom of joy in a world of desolation. May we find in the midst of those rituals the strength to labor on for a kingdom founded on love, wisdom, justice, and mercy even when the fruits of those labors are not clear or immediate.
That is artful mourning to anticipate, mourning that transforms us and the world by the hope we have in Christ.