By Martin Accad
Every Christmas is a time of laughter and tears, of life and death, of singing and mourning, of beauty and ashes. For every person experiencing joy, there is one experiencing suffering. For every mother delighting in her newborn, there is another grieving the loss of hers. For every man and woman celebrating their union, there are a man and a woman mourning the death of their spouse.
Most of us this year, like every Christmas, will sit in the warmth of our houses. Most of us have decorated our Christmas trees and hanged a wreath on our doors. Many even among our Muslim neighbors, especially in Lebanon, will have placed a Christmas tree to celebrate the birth of the Messiah. On Christmas Eve this week, our families will come together. We will cook turkeys and roasts, bake cookies and logs, gather together with our families to sing, cheer and exchange gifts. For most of us, Christmas this year will still evoke shepherds in the open fields under starry skies, choirs of angels singing the birth of a newborn and glorious king. There will be wise men coming from the East, carrying gold, frankincense and myrrh; sheep, cows and donkeys breathing softly over a child wrapped in swaddling clothes.
But many of us, too, will be thinking of you. For you, Christmas will evoke only too well the greed of murderous kings and politicians, the bloodthirsty bands of thugs moving under the cover of night, from house to house, slitting the throats of those boys who might otherwise one day arise and avenge their fathers for these crimes. Christmas will be that flight in the middle of the night, away from the familiar, far from the warmth; strangers, refugees in a foreign land. For you the angels will not sing “glory” or “hallelujah.” They will warn: “Go! Take your children. Take your husbands. Don’t look back. Take your lives until such a time as it is safe for you to return.”
Oh mothers of Damascus, of Aleppo, of Homs, Hama and Deir el Zor! Our joy this year will be lessened. The laughter of our children will be weaker. The volume of our choirs will be softer. The warmth of our houses will be milder. The deep sense of your misery will cast its shadow over us. “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18).
But because of this remembrance also our minds will dare to venture beyond the misery. Out of the blood, the tears and the ashes we will wait in hopeful expectation for another voice: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’” (Matthew 3:3). We will open our hearts to the one who said: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me … He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, … to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve…, to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
This is a homage to the mothers of Syria. But it is also a homage to Rana, Rebecca and Randall, to Joseph and Blanche, and to so many others who feel deeply the loss of our colleague Rodolphe during this Christmas season. This Christmas, like every other Christmas, is a time of laughter and tears, of life and death, of singing and mourning, of beauty and ashes.