“Mama, the song is sad.” He breaks from his block tower construction and catches my gaze.
I noticed it after he spent an evening watching The Piano Guys videos on YouTube with his Daddy, this new sensitivity to the emotion of music; a subtle awareness far beyond his two years. He had sat on his Daddy’s lap, wholly entranced in the melodic chant of a cello. The Christmas carols carrying their way through our home in recent weeks have given him ample opportunity to hone this receptivity. A Silent Night and Angels We Have Heard On High have wound their enchanting inflections into his little spirit.
“Sometimes sad things can be beautiful.” I tell him, and he turns back to his blocks. I watch him, and I think on another sort of beautiful sadness, one that has been troubling his older brother this Christmas season.
A few weeks ago my aunt gave them a book for Christmas, The Legend Of The Candy Cane. They were enamored with it from the first page. Their little eyes grow wide at the illustrations of a young red-headed girl helping to open up a new candy shop, filling glass jars with brightly colored candies. As we read, my boys ask what each candy is, and I can see their imaginations budding with grand possibilities, as if they themselves were in that candy shop working alongside of little Lucy.
But then one day the story changes for my eldest, Zeke. He sits in my lap, Christmas Carols chiming in the background, and the white lights on our Christmas garland shining bright as his white hair. He sits entranced as usual, asking questions about the lollipops and gum drops on the page. And then the story picks up its plot, and we learn about the Candy Cane legend, how the J stands for Jesus, and when we flip it upside down, it reminds us of a Shepherds staff, because Jesus is our Shepherd.
We read of the white stripes, and how they remind us that we can be washed white as snow. But then the red must still be dealt with. I turn the page, and his brow furrows. His face falls. All thoughts of ribbon candy and gum balls are forgotten.
“I don’t like this page, Mom.”
As his little hands rest on my arm, and the full weight of his four-year-old self rests against me, I can sense the sadness wash over him. My own heart aches as I glance at the page.
Jesus sits collapsed on the ground, a crown of thorns resting on his head, his closed eyes turned towards the ground, his palm open and empty. A Roman soldier stands next to him, whip in hand.
“Why don’t you like this page, Honey?” I prod, but gently; I can tell he’s deeply troubled.
“I just don’t like it.” he says.
But the red of that candy cane, it must be dealt with. For the white has no place without the red. I press on.
“Is it because Jesus had to die?” I ask him.
“Yes.” He replies.
I don’t like it either, my boy. Not one bit.
It is so much like those subtle tones our two-year-old has been perceiving in the slow, low melodies flowing from the radio. They stir the soul and catch us breathless and in awe of a holy birth. A harmony of the violin against the background of bass; a sad, slow, steady ballad. This is the most beautiful kind of sad–a babe born that man no more may die.
A few days later he brings it up again. And I wonder just what is going on inside his four-year-old heart. How can a little boy lost in the wonder of Christmas comprehend that a little baby would one day have to die?
“Why did Jesus have to die?” I ask him. He thinks, and then replies, “Because the Roman soldiers arrested Him. He said ‘forgive them’.”
“Yes. Why did they have to kill Him?” I ask.
“So we would not have to die.” he replies.
And there in his words are the grace of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit and the breath of God’s living Word. There in his reply is all the proof I need that as insufficient as my explanations may be, God’s Word never returns void. It will press through, they will be received, they will bind tight to this one thing that always leaves me awe-struck–the faith of a child.
Perhaps that little manger scene is exactly what we all need to bring us back around to a child-like faith. The same faith that Mary, herself hardly more than a child, must have held on to as she rocked her perfect newborn son, her heart aching under what would become of him. And yet that faith was, and is, the very thing that carries us from the red–the blood that would one day be shed from that baby–and on to the white. The “three days later”. The empty tomb. The washed white as snow. The beautiful, heart wrenching reason for this season.
This week, as we go about our Christmas celebrations, wishing everyone Merry and Jolly and Happy, may we not neglect that saddest part of the Christmas story–the part that makes all the Merry possible. That the tiny newborn babe lying peacefully on a bed of hay, came with a holy mission: Nails, spears shall pierce him through, the cross he bore for me, for you.
On that starry night of splendor, when all was calm and all was bright, a wrinkly just-from-the-womb infant boy came with his destiny etched into a wooden cross. This perfect child would be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities.” It is this saddest part of the Christmas story that we cannot shield our own children from, for this is the wonder of Christmas itself, that; “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
I am praying that my boy will always be a little bit uncomfortable with the story of Christmas, because I never want him to look upon that blessed manger scene, without also thinking upon the scene of Calvary.
From my family to yours, Merry Christmas friends. May we all look upon the manger this week, and fall to our knees in wonder of the cross that baby would bear for each one of us.