So. Things have been a little tough around here lately, and for a variety of reasons. Seems to be that way for a lot of folks this year. Times are tough out there, no doubt about it.
I’ve never understood how anyone could be melancholy during Christmas. To feel a heaviness amidst such beauty seems impossible, and to possess a measure of fear while surrounded by so much joy seems tragic. Such people have always been alien to me. I understand them better now.
The Nativity story is a popular one in our house these days; the kids have fallen into the habit of reciting the first verses of Luke 2 each night before bed. One of my favorite parts of the Bible, Luke 2. It is a fantastic retelling of fact—of shepherds and angels and a big miracle in a tiny baby. Last night as I listened, heart heavy and sadness there, what struck me was the tenth verse:
“But the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people.’”
I imagined those shepherds—alone that night in darkness, guarding their flocks, trying to keep the wolves away. It was likely a tough time for them then, just as it is now for us. It was a life of work and of scraping by, of dealing with loss and hardship. And fear, especially fear. They were trying to keep the wolves away, after all. Maybe that’s why so many of us are afraid, too.
I think it’s fear that lies deep inside our troubles. Fear that the bad things will get worse, that the black hole we’re in will get deeper, and that whatever joy is left for us in this world will be carried away by a cold wind that will leave us shivering.
For a tiny group of shepherds one night long ago, help came in the form of an angel with Good News to tell. But before that News was given came four words that were even more needed, at least for that group of sheep herders in the Bethlehem countryside:
“Fear not; for behold…”
If there is a magic to all the Christmases that have followed that first one (and I have no doubt there is), then the secret to that magic lies in one word—behold.
My problem was that I was familiar with that word but didn’t really know what to behold something truly entailed. My dictionary put it this way:
“To perceive through use of the mental faculty; comprehend.”
In other words, to behold something means not merely to see it, but to ponder it. To seek to understand it.
Our worries and cares shrink not only our hearts and minds, but our vision as well. The more we look upon what we fear, the less we can see of what can comfort. I think that’s why beholding is so important. It involves interest. It requires attention. It demands participation. It means that for one moment we chance a small step outside of ourselves to gaze upon larger things.
So let us—you and I—do just that this Christmas. Let’s take a moment to ponder and wonder and try to comprehend. In that even our sadness will be coated with a sheen of joy, and the angels will proclaim even in our darkness. For the reason we celebrate this time, this Holy Child, is because by His presence the sadness we feel in this life was rendered temporary, and by Him we know that fairer lands await.
Do not be afraid. Behold.