My son’s life overlapped Martin Luther King Jr.’s by one day. For many years that meant that I didn’t have any reason to make particular notice of his upcoming birthday because it was always proceeded by news announcements of the impending anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Last year there was little fanfare about the assassination, and I missed the birthday. My bad.
This year, at Christmas, of all times, I had dreams about a similar phenomenon. What happens when a celebration of one event, in this case, a birth, is coincident with the commemoration of another, much more tragic, event? In the case of Christmas the tragic event has to be the events of Easter, the host of an entirely different holiday. In the case of my son, it was celebration of the miracle of his birth; contrasted with the horror of the assassin’s bullet.
One is a celebration, the other a commemoration of something we really do not want to celebrate.
That is reminiscent of what happened in my son’s, Josh’s, experience. On the one hand, we ought to be celebrating his birth, but on the other we are relying on one of the most tragic of activities to occur in our experience for the reminder’s date. Care must be taken not to let the difference be obscured.
I must admit that, as is often the case, I was largely unaware of just how tragic the event actually was when it happened. Not that I was unaware of King’s work or that his loss wasn’t close to home. For a white guy, which I am, it certainly was. But King was largely unknown to me at the time. He was only a name from the news, on the right side, for sure. But not the author of the famous letter from the Birmingham jail, or the target of J. Edgar Hoover’s rage. I only became familiar with King’s true character after his death. My also bad. Very bad.
In my defense I would like to point out how very far I have come from my upbringing, which was only slightly better than totally simian. Although it was blessed with love and the provision of care, it was shrouded in all the trappings that usually accompany a family from the south, full of bigotry and white is right philosophy.
That said, let’s return to the issue under present consideration: the contrast between celebration and commemoration. Christ was one who promoted love as no-one I know of had promoted it before him. But the powers that were at the time saw to it that he was brutally killed for his efforts. Christmas is all about celebrating the elevation of love. Easter is when we commemorate how brutal his death really was.
Oddly, we seem to do so without honoring the thing we celebrated only four months previously: the triumph of love over hate. I see that love in the faces of the many carolers who visit the old folks home this time of year. God bless them all. May they always bask in Christ’s love.
That this time of year is the celebration of love should never let slip our minds. Happy Christmas, and to all a good night!