Thursday, December 25, 2014

For Those Struggling on Christmas

For those of you who struggle on Christmas, for whom it's a reminder of loss or loneliness: this day doesn't have to be hopeless.

When we sing all those Christmas carols about joy, it can seem like those songs don't "get" you. Like they don't see the hardship that Christmas reminds you of, or in some cases, still annually brings. Like you're being left out of the spirit of things unless you force yourself to feel good.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The child who was born in a manger would go on to say something incredible as a man: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Note Jesus' deliberate arrangement of the two concepts, suffering and hope. The Savior always picks his words carefully. Hope is the latter of the two, the final word. There's a lot of significance in that.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ accomplished far more than many of us realize. He can now offer his comfort and peace to the redeemed heart, and those things are far more than just a weak consolation prize. He can really make your heart light and full. He has mine.

The Scriptures also tell us that Jesus can mend broken lives - and change earthly circumstances. The king who was born in a stable would heal many in Israel who had every reason to resign themselves to lifelong desolation. He's in the business of restoration and triumph.

Some of us tend to be really cautious when we talk about that side of the kingdom, because we don't know how or when he will accomplish such things (and because other parts of the church go way too far with it). I don't want to offer false hope or make promises that aren't God's. We have a ways to go until every enemy is conquered.

But that doesn't mean you should rule miracles out, either. At least let it be a category for you. You wouldn't be the only person who's received one.

Whatever else God is doing in your life, this much is absolutely certain and can be taken to the bank: God cares. He sees. He has taken notice of your struggle, and he is not indifferent. He knows you have fought hard and that you have suffered much. This is more than just God having a "plan" for your life. It's about his heart for you.

A friend of mine just had a conversation about this last night, and we agreed on something vital: God is more than just a caretaker. A caretaker can watch out for you without really caring, without being close. But God is a Father. His heart for you is good. "Gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love" (Psalm 145:8).  He's not annoyed with you. He's not disappointed with you. It's impossible for him to love you more than he already does. Thanks to the child born of a virgin.

And if you want a plan, check this: whatever else God is planning for you, he has arranged for the ultimate triumph: eternal life. Where every tear is wiped away and suffering can no longer reach you.

The blood of Christ and the empty tomb have secured this for everyone who puts their faith in this Jesus whose birth we commemorate today. It's coming.

To find joy is sometimes a deliberate choice. In years past, I've found that I need to fix my eyes on this grace, and not my troubles, in order to find this lightness of heart. That doesn't mean pretending your troubles aren't there. Even God doesn't do that. A lot of folks read the words of Paul about contentment and joy and think that's what he means - denial. But that's not it. It's simply about not letting pain be everything. It's not even the major theme. Jesus has overcome it. And today is the day he finally kicked off the triumphant mission that made it all true.

Christmas is about fulfilled promises. It's about God finally breaking through the darkness that gripped the world and bringing his kingdom once and for all. There are big things going on, and you're part of it.

Whatever else is going on, I hope that will be the final word for you today.

Merry Christmas!

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