Tidings of Comfort and Joy

It is still a little too early for me to get excited about the Christmas season, if excited is even the proper word to indicate how I treat this holiday in my old age. It holds a different kind of magic for me now in contrast to the exuberance I felt as a school boy. Then we were released from a relentless scholastic drudge to enjoy a blessed two-week reprieve from pretending to learn. The dream of seasonal indulgences such as having divinity to eat, decorations to bring out of the attic, and presents tactfully placed under a brightly lit tree, as if Santa had paid a visit to our house, was about to come true once again. And the singing of Silent Night never failed to add a spiritual dynamic to these material comforts.

Now I hold these things in memory and chose to shelter them there rather than attempt to replicate them.  I cannot bring back the people whose depth of compassion and commitment to family were the true ingredients for what made those days the delight of my childhood. The sadness of their absence from this life is fortunately countered by the gratitude I feel for having shared even a season of this life with them. Their mark on this and other holiday celebrations is as indelible as the imprint they left on my soul. The result is that I am content to leave it all to contemplation, a private reverie far more muted but no less rewarding as the joy of waking Christmas morning to prospects of gaining a childish wealth all wrapped and beribboned in token to a spirit of gift-giving that eluded me at a time when I was intent on being the recipient.

Of all the music associated with Christmas I still cherish the ones that celebrate the faith I grew up with and underscore who we were as we gathered around the table to enjoy a sumptuous breakfast feast my aunt and uncle provided each year as a gift of which we all could partake together. But one song has gained in significance for me as I have aged and hopefully matured in my appraisal of things. The first line of its refrain is the title of this week’s message and instantly hints at an archaic perspective on life. After all, who still uses the word tidings in their daily communications, although its meaning seems to be perfectly attuned to today’s Twitter culture.

Tidings are brief messages, their brevity meant to impart a sense of importance to us without having to endure a long-winded explanation about just how important we should appreciate the news to be. And in this case the news is a blessing; our own comfort and joy being the desired result of our verbal benefactor. These twin virtues stem from the song’s proclamation that our deliverance from evil has been secured through the birth of a child, whose entrance into this world we celebrate on December the 25th even though the actual month, day and year remain unknown to us. And, in fact, his birth is not the true cause of our deliverance, but his death. But the song betokens, for me at least, that same sense of anticipation I experienced as a child, waking to a blessing that would bring me a comfort and joy I could not fully appreciate at the time. Some blessings, apparently, fail to reach their full benefit until the recipient has grown in sufficient proportion to the magnitude of the tiding.

God rest you merry, everyone as the song’s opening line intends. May you both hear and speak tidings of comfort, joy, peace, love and all the other qualities which can make this time of year the blessed event we desperately desire it to be.

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