If you are wondering, “How can I know God,” here are three different answers you might hear: 1. “We cannot know God.” This is the position of many people today. If you look at any of the recent religious surveys, it is clear that don’t knows are on the rise. That may well be...
Surgeons don’t operate at midnight in an alley where darkness shrouds the patient. What’s wrong with the patient? Are bones broken? How can I help them? These questions find an inadequate answer, or no answer, until bright bulbs illumine the broken body. Then we examine the damage. Only then, the operation begins. The brighter the light, the better we can see our wounds.
Watching December inch its way toward the 25th is like watching the sun inch its way upward on the eastern horizon. It shines its light on a broken and brutal world. The annual irony of this season is that the intensified focus on community and joy often results in pushing away those who are dealing with pain and loneliness. The Christmas spirit does not include them in cultural joy, but excludes them from it.
As a result, the holiday season can actually intensify our own sadness. The loud carolers make us think of our private tears. The gathering of smiling families makes us focus on our own loneliness. And the twinkling, colorful Christmas tree light bulbs shine light on our own wounds.
Does this describe your Christmas experience?
Culture tells the downcast to wash down their sadness with a glass of eggnog. To watch one more schmaltzy-everyone-is-smiling-at-the-end Hallmark movie we can view while sitting in an apartment to which we alone have the key. But no matter how festive we are, we cannot escape the reminder of our de-ringed finger, the unknown whereabouts of our estranged father, and our unfulfilled life.
And here’s another irony: the more estrangement we experience this time of year, the heavier the weight of aloneness presses us down, the more out of synch we feel with a culture inundated with merriment and cheer, the closer we are to the original story of Christmas.
Into Such a World as This
Long before tinseled trees and Rudolph’s glowing nose, there was a man named Joseph. He was on the verge of breaking off his engagement to a girl named Mary. All the evidence pointed to her being a liar and cheat who had been with another man. Before “It’s a Wonderful Life,” there was an unwonderful march from Nazareth to Bethlehem with a woman whose water could break at any moment. Long before a smiling band of carolers came knocking on the door, there were the cries of our Savior come to us as a baby, pushed into the coldness of our world, and welcomed by a stall decorated with the stinking manure of beasts.
The original Christmas was not sweetness and light. The Son of God showed up in our world far from home, smothered in darkness, with demons lurking nearby, a sociopathic king intent on his murder, facing 33 years of life in which the whole of humanity would misunderstand and backstab and slander and eventually crucify him while soldiers cast lots for his garments.
Into such a world—our world—the Father sent his Son. Into a world where “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). A world where “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). Yet this is the world that God “so loved… that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
This is the world where “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2).
In other words, the brighter the Father’s Light shone into our world, the more clearly we see our wounds. And the more clearly we see our wounds, the more clearly we see that this child, this Son, comes as the great Physician of soul and body, who comes to be our healing.
Christmas Means God Is on Our Side
Are you lonely? He is born as the companion of the lonely, to be blood of our blood, body of our body. The friend who will never leave us or forsake us. For in him we live and move and have friendship with God.
Are you joyless? He is born as the light that no darkness can overcome. Counts our every tear. Sits with us in ICU. Stands with us at the graveside. And promises, though weeping may last the night, that joy comes in the morning, for he himself is our joy.
Are you ashamed? He is born as the incarnation of the Father’s heart, the heart that proclaims you are clean in his blood, you are radiant in his sacrifice, you are made perfect and righteous in him who became our sin and shame that we might become his holiness and joy.
There is no dark pit of sadness so deep that his arm cannot reach to grab you and pull you back into the light of life again. There is no regret so final that his love cannot reverse and transform it into a hope again. No person who feels useless or utterly forgotten that is not precious to him. For he was willing to be born for you, to enter your pain, to absorb your scars, and to bring you out of the grave with him on his and your Easter day.
Christmas is God’s ways of saying that he is on our side, no matter what. He is Immanuel, after all, God-with-us, God-for-us, God-in-us. Once and for all eternity, God became a living, breathing, blood and bones and skin human being. And, because of that, we are united with God in a bond of intimacy that even the angels cannot experience.
The brighter the light, the better we can see our wounds. And the brighter God’s love for us in Christ shines this nativity, the better we see our healing. Whoever you are, whoever you’re with or not with, whatever wounds afflict you, that swaddled baby in his mother’s arms—he has come for you.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)