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The Dark Shading of a Beautiful Christmas by George C. Anderson

The Advent and Christmas passages in Luke are beautiful, but they are not pretty in the ways that decorated trees with wrapped presents beneath them are; or colorful lights on buildings, festive clothes, and ballads sung by Bing Crosby and Burl Ives, or even Evis Presley and Britney Spears on their best Christmas behavior.  All that is fun, mind you, and I participate in holiday cheer with all my secular heart, soul and strength.  That’s glitter-pretty though, not beautiful…, not in the way I define true beauty.

The Advent and Christmas passages are beautiful in that the rich colors of light and life and hope are set against the dark shading of night and death and fear.  We’ve added the glitter to these passages.  Wipe them off and see them in their original color and shading.  Turn off the colored lights, silence the festive music and go outside and read the Christmas passages in Luke and Matthew by candlelight where fear and hope both flicker on the pages.  Enter the world of these passages with fear and trembling.

For instance, notice the angel.  The angel who first appears to the shepherds is not cute and precious.  As with the dirty, scruffy, angel of the movie Michael, he is not that kind of angel.  When the angel appears to the shepherds, they are filled with fear because they know that an angel can be as much God’s agent of judgment as a bearer of good news.

Even when the shepherds are calmed down and learn that the angel actually bears good news, that a Savior is coming into broken lives and a broken world, we still know that this child is born to die.  One day, the child will be killed.  That will be the cost of saving love.

The shadow of the cross is what provides the shading for the Christmas stories.  To appreciate all the beauty of Christmas, we are wise not to let the culture’s escapist stories, sentimental songs and tinsel decorations make us filter out the darker tones.  For if we forget the dark shading, and enjoy only the light, we will be excluding from Christmas those for whom the angel first came; the lowly and those in need.

Silently suffering souls will attend Christmas Eve services, play-acting because they think that the season is not for them, that it is simply a festive holiday about good cheer and the sharing of abundance.  Attending churches this Christmas Eve will be the mother whose divorce is near, the still young adult who this past year buried the father who used to carve the turkey for Christmas dinner, the child who will dread the question at school, “What did you get for Christmas?” because the answer will be, “Not much” …or the child whose honest answer would be, “Everything I asked for, except the attention and discipline I need.”  By feeling out of sorts, they are made to feel out of place, out of step, out of season, out of it altogether.  They would like to get into the spirit of things and be as happy as everyone wants them to be, but they can’t.  And because they can’t, they don’t feel free to be honest.  They feel pressed to put on the act, decorate their demeanor with colored lights and silver bells.

That’s a shame!  That’s a shame because this is the biblical word from the Gospel of Luke: Those who know some pain, or loss, or guilt, or regret; who suffer in dry or low places, THIS SEASON’S FOR YOU!  This season is uniquely, specifically, for you. It is to barren Elizabeth, the displaced virgin Mary, the lowly shepherds, that the angel comes.

And what the angel announces is this: “Fear not!

Unto you who are poor, whether in means or in spirit-

Unto you who are in dry or low places-

Unto you who know your need for God-

Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you; you will find the babe, not wrapped in expensive cloths and adorned with jewels, but wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, born low to meet you where you live so as to finally lead you to the heavens where you can join the fearsome angels in a chorus of praise of God’s judgment… that leads to salvation, joy and lasting peace for all people.

George Anderson is the Senior Minister at Second Presbyterian Church.
You may contact him at: [email protected] or visit them on the web at

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