Christmas Is For This Moment
NRT's Senior Editor reflects on how the truth of Christmas is especially poignant in the midst of these dark days.

Christmas is for children, many people say. And they're right. After all, it was the arrival of an infant that brought about the whole thing, anyway. 
Perhaps that's why it's especially troubling that one of the worst weeks in our country in recent memory took place during the holiday season. It's been mentioned more than once that the parents of the 20 children killed in the Newtown, Conn. shootings will be staring at presents beneath their tree that will never be opened by their intended recipients. 
After shedding plenty of tears about the incident--as well as a similar one in China, and another shooting that happened near where I live in Clackamas County, Oregon--I'm reminded that indeed, Christmas is for children. And we're all God's children.
I read in a Christmas devotional this week that "Christmas happens at the moment when heaven's light invades the darkness of planet earth!" In that case, we need Christmas more than ever this year. 
For the past three weekends, I've been part of a quartet that has sung Christmas carols in the foyer of my church, but this weekend, the songs had particular poignancy. 
First to grab my attention was, of course, "Silent Night." I've never really bought into the thought that the night Jesus born was a silent one. I've been through three childbirths, and they've been anything but silent. But I think the truth in the song isn't in the literal silence of the moment, but rather the awe-inspiring tidal wave of peace and overwhelming contentment that washed over Bethlehem that first Christmas.
The peace wasn't an absence of trauma or turmoil; it was unstoppable calmness of heart given by God Himself. 
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord at thy birth, Jesus Lord at thy birth
That's the kind of peace only Jesus offers. May we embrace it and spread it around.
Upon hearing of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a mentor of mine came into my office and said a simple, yet profound observation: "The spirit of Herod is still very much alive." 
Herod, of course, is the villain in the Christmas story. As the King of Israel, he becomes obsessed with the prophecies and rumors surrounding the birth of a new king, the Messiah. He is far more concerned with keeping his power than with seeing the story of God unfold in his day. And in true satanic fashion, he commits a heinous, tragic act. In order to quash this threat to his rule, Herod ordered that every male child in Bethlehem under two years old be killed. 
Little did I know that the lesser-known song I'd been singing for years, "Coventry Carol," was entirely based on that tragedy in Israel, told from the perspective of a mother who lost her son to the evil of Herod.
Herod the king in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay

Then woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting nor say nor sing,
Bye bye, lully lullay
Like Herod, the devil--the enemy of our souls--is raging. Revelation 12:12 says the devil "is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short." In these last days, it seems as if the same spirit that drove Herod to terrible acts is alive in our world, as the devil scratches and claws with the last seconds he has as occupying power of this world. 
For good reason, "Away in a Manger" is thought of as the Christmas carol for young kids. It was, after all, written as part of a Lutheran Sunday school collection in 1885. Hearing the song immediately evokes images of little kids singing slightly and adorably out of tune, making gestures, singing, "the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head." 
It's a cute song that babies sing about the Baby. But I was completely caught off guard this weekend as I sang the powerful third verse, which brought to mind the children in Connecticut and China who met the Lord on Friday:
Be near me, Lord Jesus
I ask Thee to stay close by me forever
And love me, I pray
Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care
And take us to Heaven to live with Thee there
May we take comfort in the fact that Jesus has a special place in His heart for children. "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones," Jesus said in Matthew 18:10. "For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven." He says that the Kingdom of God belongs to children in Matthew 19:14, and tells us in Luke 18 that we are to receive the Kingdom like them. 
While singing Christmas songs is such a heartwarming and long-standing tradition, the downside of that is the possibility that the words we're singing lose their power. I think "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is one of those songs. 
But at its core, the song--a whopping seven total verses long--carries with it the central message of Christmas: Christ's arrival means salvation, peace and overcoming the darkness of this world.
God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from satan's power when we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy
(Fourth verse)
"Fear not then," said the Angel, "let nothing you affright
This day is born a Savior of a pure virgin bright
To free all those who trust in Him from satan's power and might"
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy
The tidings of Christmas--of the entrance of Messiah--are for joy, as the carol says, but they're also for comfort. We need comfort. There's a reason the Holy Spirit is referred to as "the comforter" (John 14:26). In our times of distress, confusion, anger and pain, the tidings of Christmas not only comfort us, but then give us the capacity for joy--joy that surpasses all understanding.
Thank you, Lord, for Christmas. Thank you for invading our darkness and bringing light. Bring it yet again upon our world. Amen.

NRT Senior Editor Marcus Hathcock has been a newspaper reporter, an editor and now Community Life Director for East Hill Church in Gresham, Ore. He's also been involved in opera, acappella, a CCM group and now is a songwriter and one of the worship leaders at East Hill. Follow his journey at

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