In The Gulag Archipelago1918-1956, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observes, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”1
This dividing line of good and evil runs through not only every human heart but throughout all of human history. One of the earliest promises concerning the Christmas message of the coming Christ was, strangely, made to the serpent in the garden of Eden where God said of the Christ child, “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
Every Christmas poses this dilemma. It is to be a time of joy, celebration, and rejoicing as evidenced in worship, Christmas carols, and giving gifts. But there is always sadness in Christmas. I know a family that will be celebrating this Christmas without a son and grandson. It will not be a “Merry” Christmas.
Those of us who have been spared such tragedy and heartbreak need simply turn on the news to be reminded of war, beheadings, and disease. The victims are members of families. What to do? How can one enjoy Christmas among others who do not? Who cannot?
On December 30, 1956, C. S. Lewis wrote a short note to a Sarah Neylan to thank her for the small gift of an empty jar. In spite of his wife’s cancer and his brother’s battle with alcohol Lewis was able to write the following:
My dear Sarah
Thank you for the beautiful little jar. I am trying to think of some treasure choice enough to put in it. I am also v. ashamed of not having sent you a word this Christmas. But I’ve been really snowed under. All domestic help was away for its holidays. I have a sick (v. sick) wife to visit daily in hospital. At home I had to look after a sick brother, 2 schoolboy stepsons, one dog, one cat, four geese, umpteen hens, two stoves, three pipes in danger of freezing: so I was pretty busy and pretty tired. Well, all good wishes to all of you and here’s a new year’s gift.2
What impresses is not so much the difficulties in Lewis’s life as much as the fact that he wrote such a thank you note in spite of his difficulties.
Serving others is not a panacea for all pain and sometimes pain is so overwhelming we can do nothing but grieve. But to the degree we can, even when it seems small in our eyes, we do well to consider others.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:4
1. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (New York: Harper Row 1973-1974). 168.
21. Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963, Vol. III (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 820.