A few days ago, I heard, as you do this time of year, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" in passing. I don't think I was even paying much attention to it, it was just part of the season's soundscape.
And that's when something can hit you unexpectedly. This year, this time, the phrase "comfort and joy" caught my attention. More precisely, the word "comfort" caught me.
I can't tell you exactly why it hit, what my emotional state of the moment was. I can say that I've had a bit more "winter blues" than usual this year (not exactly a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder, but winters are not my happiest times of year), and maybe the general malaise of winter found my ear attaching to the word "comfort" more eagerly than usual.
I haven't made a search of this, but I don't think there's much in the way of comfort in most Christmas hymnody (overlooking, for this post, secular Christmas music, which often has sad themes). It's usually very joyful. Some hymns may be darkened by the foreshadowing of the cross. Advent music has some comfort talk, particularly the popular hymn based upon Isaiah 40, "Comfort, Comfort Now My People." Still, Christmas seems to be more about joy, celebration, bright angels and awe of the common folk.
Or maybe "comfort" is all over the material. Like I said, I haven't taken the time to search other hymns for this message. But this year, I heard the unspoken message behind the line, "tidings of comfort and joy," precisely that some people are discomfited, maybe even inconsolable. Much more significant than my winter blues, I know a family who just buried a patriarch and is on watch for a significant friend of the family to die. An internet acquaintance lost his mother quite unexpectedly when she fell and cracked her head hard enough to kill her. Another internet friend just had to take another step in his mother's situation as she receives hospice care. All these things are on my mind this Christmas Day, even as I celebrated with good friends and healthy babies. There is much joy in my life, also many who might be comforted, occasionally myself included.
I heard in the line the lyrical equivalent of a shadow in a painting, giving the picture depth.
This Christmas, I'm a bundle of emotions, really, reflecting upon the year I've had---a year of medical scares and wonderful good fortune. I'm thinking a lot about incarnation and God-with-us (Immanuel). I'm thinking about loss and gain, pain and recovery, death and resurrection.
Comfort and joy. Tidings of comfort and joy.
Good News finds you where you are.