The everlasting light shines, even in streets of deep darkness.
The town of Bethlehem lies in darkness, immersed in the deep and dreamless sleep of war. As the Israel-Hamas conflict sweeps the region, Christmas joy seems to have become a casualty—major Christmas festivities in the area have reportedly been canceled. The violent light of war, it seems, is the only thing shining in these dark streets.
One journalist described praying with her children underneath a statue of Joseph at a local Syriac Catholic Church, as the instability of the region took on a practical reality. “We sang. I could hear rockets overhead,” writes Stephanie Saldaña. “This year we are waiting for a hope that I am not sure I would even be able to believe in anymore.”
A World of Darkness
Seemingly a world away, the people of Ukraine are preparing to celebrate Christmas in a way that they haven’t been able to in almost 2 years since Putin’s troops rolled over the border and changed their world forever. In a strange but heartwarming twist, this Christmas will be more Ukrainian than many in years past. For years, Ukrainian Orthodox Christians celebrated Christmas on January 7 in keeping with the traditional Julian calendar.
As the country rejects Russian influence on the battlefield, they are choosing to also reject their invaders’ liturgy. This year, Ukrainians will be celebrating Christmas on December 25th with the Western world. Yet, even as they celebrate this small victory, the nation’s defenders remember that the threat of Russia has never disappeared.
“We basically understand that the enemy is godless,” says Ukrainian chaplain Mykolai. “This is just another day of war.”
War as a catalyst for Yuletide reflection is nothing new. Almost two centuries ago, the dichotomy of gratefulness in darkness lay heavy upon the heart of a Massachusetts pastor named Edmund Sears. Like many around the world today, Sears felt the weight of a world mired in war and conflict. He lived in a state of tension between his own pacifist beliefs and his deep philosophical commitment to abolishing slavery. It was a tension that would drive his nation to war less than 2 decades later.
Writing in the wake of the Mexican-American war, Sears went to his home and channeled his grief through the power of words. The product, a series of verses titled It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, would go on to reach the lips of millions of believers around the world and stir the hearts of many who resonated with the song’s message of triumph amid darkness.
It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old.
From angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold.
“Peace on the earth, good will to men, from heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.
Glory through Grief
The song then turns to the personal, and even the political. Sears explores the disconnect between the Gospel’s message of peace and the same Gospel being spouted from the mouths of the vicious racists of Sears’ day.
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low.
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow.
We are living in a world where such lines describe many. One need only look around or skim headlines for brief minutes to see our fellow human beings toiling along the climbing way, be it in the darkness of Bethlehem, the broken homes of Kiev, or the tumultuous streets of our own nation, where ideology sets friendships and families apart, and even threatens to tear an entire nation asunder. Yet Sears was not done writing.
For lo, the days are hastening on by prophet bards foretold.
When with the ever-circling years comes round the age of gold.
When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling.
And the whole world give back the song which now the angels sing.
We live in a world where darkness reigns, and against which the true, good, and beautiful often appear small. Yet, even in the depths of that darkness, hope arises from the most unlikely spots.
Hope is the resolve of ordinary people caught in extraordinary times. It is the courage to endure faithfully for the sake of a meaning outside our mortal and earthly frames. Hope is the salvation of the universe coming as a baby in a feeding trough in a cave in the Middle East. It is that baby, divorced from all political clout yet born the word above all earthly powers.
It was to this small world that the Creator of our universe came, clothing himself in our frail humanity, to win the greatest battle of all. For this, as we have for two thousand years, we ought to give thanks; and more, to remind ourselves from where our hope truly comes.
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath light shined. –Isaiah 9:2
To you, our readers, without whom this endeavor would be meaningless, merry Christmas. May the God who sent His Son to the world to transcend all earthly divisions reign in your hearts today and forever.
About the Author
Isaac Willour is a marketing fellow at the Institute for Faith and Freedom and the editor-in-chief of Checkpoint News. An award-winning journalist and political science student, he has covered topics ranging from Florida’s death row to the war in Ukraine and has published more than a hundred pieces in outlets ranging from The Gospel Coalition to National Review to The Wall Street Journal. He blogs about culture, religion, and Generation Z at The Unafraid on Substack.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the writer alone. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grove City College, the Institute for Faith and Freedom, or their affiliates.