This time of year is a joyful, festive time of year filled with family time, days off from work, presents given and received and celebration. At least, that is how this time of year is billed to be; and I often it is, for most of us, for the most part, a joyful time of year. But, life does not live up to the billing or expectations.
I checked Facebook this morning when I awoke. A high school classmate reports that his wife, mother of his daughters, went to “be with the angels” last night. A friend I met in college said goodbye to his mother yesterday, and she is no longer with us today. An acquaintance I know through wrestling described a colleague, only a few months past 50, who passed yesterday. Another high school friend asked for prayers for his daughter, going on two weeks in the hospital. Another friend from high school started chemo again this week.
These are only a few examples of the people I know who are struggling with loss, sickness and other difficulties right now. I am painfully aware that this joyful time of year is anything but happy for people dealing with financial difficulties, health problems and other struggles.
The incongruity of the festive, popular trappings and the dark, lonely struggles makes this time of year especially difficult for many people.
In quiet reflection, we know that the reason for celebration is not in the popular trappings. We celebrate the birth of Christ and the hope He brings.
Implicit in the story of God shedding his omnipresence and exchanging an eternal, omnipotent position for the humble circumstance of a dependent, newborn baby is that God is not unaware or unable to identify with us in our humanity and our struggles. He is not unaccustomed to our suffering.
Jesus Christ became Emmanuel, God with us, as foretold many centuries before. He lived as we live and suffered as we suffer. Jesus felt the weight of depression and the sorrow of loss. He intimately knows our struggles.
As we consider and celebrate the birth of Christ this time of year, we should focus our attention on the context and the purpose for which He was born – to bear in Himself the sin of mankind, to carry that burden to the cross, to die and to bury the sin he carried; and to rise, conquering both sin and death.
The hope that Jesus gives us is not the promise of no suffering, but the promise of redemption and new life on the other side of the suffering.
We have a God who is not distant. He, even is now, poised at the door to each of our hearts. He is still Emmanuel – God with us. He is also now God in us – if we are willing to receive Him. I pray that you would open the door to Him today and receive the hope He has to give.
Though life is often marked by loss, sorrow and suffering, we have hope. I wish and pray for God to fill each person this Christmas Season with that hope and, with it, peace and comfort and, yes, even joy.
In the midst of the difficulties and struggles, we can have joy. Our hope is not in the things of this world. Our hope is anchored in something deeper and more substantial.
In that vein, have a Merry Christmas everyone!