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 we look forward to this time of year; and I believe it is, for most of us, for the most part, a joyful time of year. But, life is not so consistent with our expectations and experiences.
I checked Facebook this morning when I awoke. A high school classmate reports that his wife and mother of his daughters when 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, passed yesterday after a two-week bout of pneumonia. Another high school friend asked for prayers for his daughter, going in two weeks in the hospital. Another friend from high school started chemo again this week.
These are only a few circumstances among the people I know of people 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 many people dealing with financial, health and other struggles. The incongruity of the festive, outward showings and the dark, inward struggles makes this time of year especially difficult for many people.
In quieter reflection, we know that the reason for celebration is not the outward 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 perspective of 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 suffering.
Jesus Christ became God with us, Emmanuel, as foretold many centuries before. He lived as we live and suffered as we suffered. Jesus felt weight of depression and the sorrow of loss. He intimately knows our struggles.
Though we celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year, we cannot help but see that joyful time in the context of the purpose for which He was born – to bear in Himself the sin of mankind, to carry that burden to the cross – and, in dying, to bury sin; and in rising, to conquer death and give us hope.
We have a God who is not distant, but is now poised at the door to each of our hearts. He is still God with us, but He is also now able to be 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 bring.
Though life is still marked by sorrows and suffering, we have hope. I wish and pray for God to fill each person on this Christmas Eve day 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, but is anchored in something deeper and more substantial.
In that vein, have a Merry Christmas everyone!