It is not just a sobering thought. It is a thought filled with the deepest dread, the most unimaginable despair and the highest degree of sadness. For those of us who came into a world after the event of Christmas, this is not a thought that normally engages our brain activity. We take Christmas for granted, no matter how it is symbolised or manifested in each family and each community. The feasting, the gift giving, the singing, the merry-making or the busyness of the season is all one big package that we have come to associate with the season.
If Christmas had never happened, we would have to take in the fact that the whole industry of Christmas would be absolutely missing from our lives. For that is one of the many forms that the modern-day Christmas has taken: it is an industry that people are happy to work for and make money out of by taking advantage of the spirit of generosity that the season generates, and directing it in an entirely different direction. Just as the human love for travel and exploration of new places gave birth to the industry of tourism, the love of doing good by giving to loved ones or the underprivileged has birthed the industry that thrives around Christmas. Business establishments everywhere, ranging from five-star hotels to the corner shop selling paan, have festooned themselves in Christmas finery. They do not pass up any excuse to use the word Christmas to promote or sell their goods. Let it be, though. For in whatever manner people choose to celebrate Christmas, it really is fine, for truly, that simply means, at the core of it all, they have found reason to celebrate.
But what if Christmas had never happened? We can never fully comprehend the darkness that is spoken of in the verse: The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death, a light has dawned (Matthew 4.16). We who never lived through the pre-electricity era cannot imagine the darkness of the dark as accurately as those who lived it. Nevertheless, it was not that kind of darkness that the verse was referring to. It was the darkness of the soul without hope. The darkness of the unenlightened; the darkness of the gospel-less, the darkness of the hopelessly hopeless, the dark interior of a heart closed against the illumination that Love brings. It was the darkness of a people who lived without the revelation that the New Testament brings. It is the kind of darkness that has no possibility of believing in a different future, a drastically different way of living. It is the kind of inner darkness against which angels wring their hands when they encounter the impenetrability of a human mind that will not allow the message of hope to do its work on it.
What if Christmas had never happened? What if we were still living in that darkness of the unredeemed? What if He never bothered to come to earth? How to go into that dark night of the heart? What if we pare our questions down to the most basic level and ask the quintessential question?
The story of Christmas, so simple, so lucid, takes away the desolation of the question, ‘what if.’ It answers the question with its illumination. It does so almost without needing words. The story of Christmas is a beautifully merciful story. And mercy in its wake, evokes the most beautiful of emotions, gratefulness. It is our right response to the saviour’s coming.
The light that the shepherds on the dark hills saw was blinding. It was heaven’s light carried on angel-wings. It was the light of the fulfilled message of a seven-hundred-year-old prophecy, light that shattered the darkness so completely that the great rejoicing of those that walked in darkness could not be camouflaged.
If Christmas never happened, I think then, it would have been far better not to have come into existence at all. But Christmas happened, in a manner that defies all adjectives, and it happened for us, the glory of that thought overshadows every other. Merry Christmas then and may yours be a greatly blessed one!