Today and tomorrow, countless people around the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus. Some people will celebrate his birth in the midst of great suffering and loneliness. Perhaps they will take comfort from the fact that the Lord himself was “a man of sorrows,” “familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3).
One of my favorite Christmas carols is “What Child Is This?” by William Chatterton Dix. The song comes from a poem “The Manger Throne” that emerged out of a time of great suffering and depression for Dix. Dix endured a startling and serious sickness that almost killed him. He was bedridden for quite some time, during which he experienced the depression. The poem and song that finally emerged from this ordeal bear witness to the revelation of Jesus’ glory cloaked in mystery.
We need to wrap our heads around the mystery of this child and allow him to wrap our hearts. But our hearts are often so hard. We need to be born again and again at his birth to be able to comprehend the mystery of his humble glory. Sometimes sorrow and silence are needed to break our hearts so that the glory of the one to whom Dix refers as “the Silent Word” can break through.
We often tend to think that the best way to celebrate Christ’s advent or appearance is loud Christmas music and laughter. Certainly, they have their place. But what of those who are bedridden and cloaked in silence this Christmas? Will Christ not appear to them? We might find that this babe will be found even more by them. Who knows? Songs of great worshipful mystery may arise from their souls, as Jesus’ light breaks into their darkness.
No matter what our circumstances are, we can take comfort from the fact that “‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). We shouldn’t be surprised to find that the same Jesus who cloaked himself in the garment of frail infant flesh and who was born outside the inn will be with those cloaked in frailty and forlornness. God will be with them—Immanuel.