Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Dark Side of Christmas

All good stories are, in some way, dark. There is a reason that the saccharine sentimentality of Disney is so despised - because it portrays everything as relentlessly happy, when we know that if it bore any relation to reality, there would be at least a sombre hint to the story. So it is with the story of Christmas.

The basic narrative, of course, is one of gerat joy. Despite having to deal with a large amount of adversity in travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem; despite being unable to find a comfortable bed for the night; they are still able to bring light into the world. Light which the darkness of the rest of the world cannot comprehend.

The sadness of the story isn't just in the upheaval of the family to Bethlehem, either. The 28th December is the Feast of the Holy Innocents - whilst celebrated unchronologically (the massacre took place after the Three Wise Men had left), it again shows the cruelty of the world into which Jesus was born; so cruel that a secular ruler could kill thousands of children because he felt his power was threatened.

The point of the Christmas story, therefore, is that explained in the beginning of John's Gospel - that "In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shineth in the darkness, and the world comprehended it not." For the story of Jesus' birth to be as inspirational as it is, it fundamentally requires his birth to have been surrounded by evil. Without such darkness, the light would not have shone that brightly.

So when we think of the season of goodwill, there's a deeper reason for it than simply being nice to people. The goodwill brought into the world was remarkable precisely because of the evil that surrounded it. The symbolism goes far beyond that, of course - not just the incongruity of the scene of the birth, but the fact that the shepherds (possibly the equivalent of chavs today) reached the stable long before the Wise Men, for example. O and A and A and O. The birth of Jesus isn't a relentlessly happy story - its the story of strength coming through some serious adversity, and how even happy times have their downsides. It's worth giving that some thought this Christmas.