Day seven on this stretch of breathing treatments, wracking coughs, swollen sinuses… bronchitis is not what anyone wants in the middle of Christmas. I can be thankful, though – even as I suck on my Ricola cough drops and keep my rag handy in case the coughing begins again. Last year, on Christmas eve, we all got the flu – me and my four babies – one after the other within a 12 hour span. I spent Christmas on fire with 104 fever and used a Luby’s half chicken to make broth and feed my poor, miserable, aching children.
To pretend that there aren’t any difficult times just because you believe in Jesus is just plain silly. We are all terminal. If you haven’t dealt with a blow close to home yet, you will. It’s just a matter of time. One day even those you love the most are going to fall asleep (hopefully in the Lord). There will be grieving.
I have close friends who are saying goodbyes right now to loved ones… or have recently said goodbye to more than one loved one. People that can’t be replaced. People that were God’s arms, wrapped around their lives.
It is hard to know what to write in a Christmas card to someone who is suffering. Maybe we would do well to remember that Christmas itself is a story of tragedy.
A girl’s reputation ruined.
A terrifying and collosal task given to two young teenagers.
New parents forced to flee for their lives and live in exile.
A self-centered and wicked king sending out a decree of death through Bethlehem…
…every boy two and under to be slain…
“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.”
I’d call that a Christmas tragedy. No peppermint or gingerbread there.
Scripture does that often – brings you to this climactic moment, and then moves on to the rest of the story… before your heart is ready to let go.
But wait! They killed the babies! It’s like that moment in Pharoah’s palace on the movie, Joseph King of Dreams where Moses is standing at Pharoah’s feet asking for him to explain WHY the Isrealite baby boys were drowned in the Nile… his face contorted in anger and disbelief.
But as life does, so suffering goes on. It is nothing new, this tragedy. The entire gospel is a story woven of tragedy… mixed with a great love that overcame death to bring us hope.
Ahhh… there’s the Christmas story we like to focus on. The gift of Jesus. Joy to the World.
But first there was a spoiled bed of fresh hay; labor pains. There was a bloody cross and a lashing that left the most perfectly innocent man disfigured beyond anything we could imagine. I’m not sure even Mel Gibson got it bloody enough in the Passion of the Christ.
The Christmas child, cradled by a brave young girl, grown in beauty and honor for this bruising… this cruel death.
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible explains Isaiah 52:14 this way:
As many were astonished at thee,…. Not so much at the miracles he wrought, the doctrines he taught, and the work he did; or at his greatness and glory, at his exaltation and dignity, though very wonderful; as at his humiliation, the mean appearance he made, the low estate he was brought into; the sufferings and death which he underwent. These words are placed between the account of his exaltation and humiliation, and may be thought to have respect to both; and indeed it is astonishing that one so great as he was, and is, should become so low as he did; and also that one that was brought so low should be raised so high:
his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men; though fairer than the children of men, as he was the immediate workmanship of the divine Spirit, and without sin; yet, what with his griefs and sorrows he bore, and troubles he met with; what with watchings and fastings, with laborious preaching, and constant travelling about to do good; what with sweat and blood, with buffetings and scourgings, never was any man’s face more marred, or his form more altered, than his was.
Yet without this disfiguring, deadly tragedy, we would all have been lost. Those tears we shed would have never been wiped away. All goodbyes would have been forever.
The message of Christmas is that God is with us in the midst of tragedy. He calls His Son ‘Immanuel’: “God with us”. God is FOR US, not against us – Jesus’ is also called “Counselor”, “Prince of Peace”, and the Lord states in Jeremiah 29:11…
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
The miracle of Christmas is that the God of the universe finds us (even in our sin, which is compared to filth) too beautiful to give up on. The tenderness of our Father in Heaven, the generosity and grace… that He could know the capacity of evil we as a human race are capable of, the pain we inflict upon each other… and still want to be WITH US and FOR US… that never ceases to blow me away.
By the shedding of blood – the affliction of Jesus, the hope of eternal life opened up to us. Tragedy gave way to an eternity without pains or tears. The worst loss of all opens the door to forgiveness, comfort, and healing. Nothing wasted. Not one tear.
And so we rejoice in the tragedy of Christmas and the triumph of Easter. We don’t mourn like those who have no hope. God is with us.
If your heart is heavy with the burden of grief or sadness this December, won’t you listen to the God who gave His Son to you for Christmas:
“Shout for joy, you heavens;
rejoice, you earth;
burst into song, you mountains!
For the Lord comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.”
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”
The gift of Christmas has you engraved on his palms. The whole purpose of His birth, life, and death were wrapped up in redeeming you as His own. He paid the most anyone has ever paid for a Christmas gift.
May we know His love deeply, feel His comfort tangibly, hear and see Him move in our lives clearly as we wait on His return. This is my prayer at Christmas and always.
In His Grip,
P.S. Because I’m sick I had to snag an older image from my archive (you might recognize it from a past Christmas post I linked up in the article). I’ll eventually get back in here and change it when I’m feeling 100% and have had time to actually decorate this year. Right now I’m just thankful that I might be able to put away the breathing machine tomorrow.
P.S.S. This post was brought to you because my friend Kirsten Oliphant asked me to contribute to her Voices in the Desert Advent series. If you would like to read the rest of the series, click over and join her on her blog.