It was Christmas 1966. I had graduated from high school just six months earlier.
It seemed like the world was being turned upside down. There was a war in Vietnam and widespread protests against the war at home. There was a struggle for civil rights, and the movement was meeting violent resistance in many American cities. The first bombing of Hanoi had just taken place, and both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were doing underground testing of nuclear weapons.
Many of us growing up during that period were turning to drugs as a means of escape, and it seemed as though the very fabric of American society was being torn asunder.
One night at Christmastime the girl I was dating told me we should remain friends but see other people. As I drove away from her house I switched on the AM radio. What I heard was “Seven O’clock News/Silent Night” by Simon and Garfunkel. It is a beautiful rendition of “Silent Night” into which is brought narration of evening television newscasts, which become louder and louder until “Silent Night” is almost drowned out.
When it ended, I felt almost overwhelmed by despair. Even the beauty and wonder of Christmas was being invaded and drowned out by life’s harsh, cold realities there at the end of 1966.
It occurred to me a few days ago, as I watched the president and first lady light the beautiful national Christmas tree, that it seems as if Christmas is always being crowded out by the dark stuff of life. During the ceremony, as people sang the great Christmas carols, I found it depressing that at the bottom of the TV screen, the sad headlines crawled by.
Maybe Simon and Garfunkel were prophetic in their song; maybe life’s harsh realities do drown out Christmas.
Or maybe they were wrong!
The second chapter of Luke is like a newscast of the headlines 2,000 years ago. Political news. Economic happenings. Military reports.
But there, among all the problems of the world, is one more thing: The birth of Jesus.
Here’s what I hope you’ll recognize this year: It was not that the headlined realities of the day invaded Christmas; what the Bible wants us to know is that Christmas invaded the harsh, cold, headlined realities of the day!
There is a beautiful underside to life, not always evident, in which God is at work bringing salvation and love to the world. On the surface it seemed like just another senseless political decision to tax, but underneath that decision, God was at work bringing Jesus to the world.
And it surely troubled the good people of Nazareth that a young girl like Mary should be expecting a child not the product of a marriage, but underneath that seeming moral failure, God was at work bringing Jesus to the world.
And the religious experience of shepherds who saw angels singing might have seemed like just another spiritual awakening, but underneath the experience, God was at work bringing Jesus to the world.
And it may have seemed as if the lack of room in Bethlehem’s inn was simply plain old economic factors, but underneath that reality, God was at work bringing Jesus to the world.
Christmas is the promise that God enters all the harsh, cold realities of our world and, in the very midst of them, gives us his son.
God is at work in the underside of your life, too. Your illness. Your loneliness. Your loss. God is at work in the underside of your family’s conflicts, your marital struggles, your personal problems, your hopes and dreams.
You can find him this year — if you’re willing to believe God is at work in the underside of your life, if you’ll open your ears to hear his song, and if you’ll simply ask God to show you the way to Jesus.