It’s been one of those weeks. The kind that come along every now and then in life, where creation seems to be screaming more than groaning.
This week, a child with Leukemia who we’ve prayed and fasted for, has taken a turn for the worse. A friend and co-worker at Highland just had his mother pass away, and for reasons that I am not ready to go into today, Leslie and I spent a good part of this week in a hospital room, grieving our own personal stuff. It’s was just us and the sounds of an occasional intercom and much waiting.
As a pastor, I’ve spent a lot of times in Hospitals, and a few of those times it was due to something personal, sometimes those are great joys and sometimes they are not. This time was not.
I’ve referenced over the past couple of weeks that USA Today said that, on some level, a fourth of Americans battle with depression around Christmas time. It’s when our American expectations for a happy life are amped up and we find the discrepancy between the ideal and the real. So we think about lost dreams and hopes, what our lives could have been, and then we look in the mirror and realize what they have become.
Or maybe it’s for more than that. Maybe this is the first (or fifteenth) Christmas without her. And that inside joke that you always shared together, just isn’t possible any longer. And that table that you’ve shared for a lifetime of celebrations now has an empty chair.
On the front cover of a National newspaper a couple of weeks ago, there was a letter to Santa written by a 10 year old boy. But this letter wasn’t for the latest PSP games, or a new bike. It was for his dad to get a job. The article went on to say that this year more than any other there will be present-less families because there are job-less parents.
I was talking with someone a few days ago about some of the personal stuff that I am going through right now, and as I talked I had this profound realization that perhaps this isn’t actually that bad of timing. If the Jesus story is true, than Christmas is actually the best time to suffer. Sure it might be more difficult because all of the lights and smiles seem to ignore your pain. But the one who we are actually celebrating is the one who knows what Christmas means the best.
God enters the mess.
The first Christmas was violent, and bloody, filled with risk and danger. It seemed like the whole strange plan of God was hanging by a thread. And if you are thinking about it, you realize that this was actually the way Jesus’ entire life went.
One turn after another Jesus is drawn toward the ones who are hurting, and with great joy mingling with great sorrow, he enters into it. Most of the time he reverses their immediate causes for suffering, sometimes he weeps with them, but he is always with them. And then…when evil finally draws its ugly head fully onto the life of Jesus. He doesn’t do for himself, what he found so easy to do for others. They even taunted him to “save himself.” But he stayed, he endured, and he emptied it of all it’s enduring power. In the words of Paul, he took away it’s victory. He took away it’s sting.
For me, a great metaphor of Christmas (especially this week) has been the thief on the cross. Jesus is undeservedly going through the same thing that he is. And Jesus talks him through it. He tells the thief that “Today you will be with me in paradise.” But the subtext is that right now I am with you in Hell.
Death sucks. There is no getting around that. And with every funeral, or miscarriage, or diagnosis of cancer we are reminded that the world isn’t supposed to be this way. It ought to be different. But Jesus entered the world the way it was, and slowly gave us a reason to hope by standing with us while we suffer.
That’s the thing about Christmas for me. I realized that I have a sense of entitlement about this time of year. I should get the present that Men’s Heath says is at the top of every man’s wish list. There should be snow on Christmas Eve (a true miracle in West Texas), and there should not be any grief. But in the words of Randy Harris, “There is so much suffering in the world, why shouldn’t each of us have to bear a part of it?”
If you find yourselves suffering, maybe it’s not because you aren’t following God the right way, maybe it’s because you are. The Scriptures seem to show a plot in which the people who are closest to God are the ones who suffer the most.
Starting with Jesus.
So maybe this Christmas is difficult for you as well. Take heart in knowing that means you might get Christmas better than anybody else. You might have a glimpse into what the first Christmas was like, and much of the Christmas’ afterward. The world is groaning for the redemption of Creation, and we must bear in part of the suffering of the world…Knowing that Christmas is God’s promise that human life matters. That he stands in solidarity with us.
And so maybe this Christmas if you weep, you will find that there are tears beyond your own, they are the tears that are for the healing of the world.
And they started at Christmas.