The message of Christmas is about hope. But sometimes “it doesn’t feel like Christmas.” It doesn’t feel hopeful. Sometimes life conspires to challenge the Christmas message of “good news of a great joy.”
Christmas has become a time of family celebration with food, presents, and parties. So when the painful reality of life interrupts our celebrations of the Christmas season, when we lose some of these traditional supports, we believe we cannot experience the spirit of Christmas. What happens when a broken family or the aching loss of a loved one or deteriorating health or fragmented and painful relationships conspire to wipe away our joy? At such times we begin to see how far we have strayed from the true message of this blessed season. What we need is something different, something deeper.
Author and speaker Jill Briscoe recalls being asked to speak to a church gathering in Croatia for two hundred newly arrived refugees. They were mostly women, because the men were either dead, or in camp, or fighting. That evening she told the refugees about Jesus, who as a baby became a refugee Himself. He was hunted by soldiers, and His parents had to flee to Egypt at night, leaving everything behind. Sensing that her audience was listening intently, she continued telling them about Jesus’ life, and when she got to the cross, she said, “He hung there naked, not like the pictures tell you.” At the end of the message, she said, “All these things have happened to you. You are homeless. You have had to flee. You have suffered unjustly. But you didn’t have a choice. He had a choice. He knew all this would happen to Him, but He still came.” Then she told them why. Many of the refugees knelt down, put their hands up, and wept. “He’s the only one who really understands,” she concluded.1
Ironically, in those times when it least feels like Christmas, it might be most like Christmas. Maybe hope, in the midst of strange, uncomfortable, and confusing circumstances, is the closest we can get to the true and original spirit of Christmas. Often, the lack of the internal peace we are desperately seeking nearly convinces us that God’s love for us—us personally—has waned. How can God truly love us when He allows such pain and suffering to enter our lives? But it was because of this very pain and suffering that God came in the first place.
When all the things that spell security and comfort are removed, we become keenly aware of how much we needed God to enter our world. We can’t make heaven on earth, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we decorate. Sin has affected and infected everything we touch. We needed to be rescued. We need a Savior.
A powerful way to appreciate having a Savior is to imagine what it would be like not to have one. Imagine that your pain and suffering have no meaning. Your life is simply ruled by fate—and you are just unlucky. Wrongs will never be made right, truth is relative, and hope for a better world is just so much dreaming. Your silent suffering and hidden pain have no divine audience; they are yours to bear alone. There exists, quite simply, no hope beyond this life.
But we do have reason for rejoicing. A Savior was born to us, and our suffering touches His merciful and gracious heart. He was not only moved by our suffering; He came to join us in it. He lowered Himself to suffer what we suffer, to feel what we feel, to cry with us, hunger with us, thirst with us, and live with us. The Almighty God made Himself vulnerable to all the pain of human life.
Christmas reminds us that we can put our hope in a sure thing—the love of God—demonstrated so beautifully on that wonderful day when He came forth into our world as a baby. Because of our despair, hopelessness, and helplessness He left His throne in heaven. This is the “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).
1 Jill Briscoe, “Keeping the Adventure in Ministry,” Leadership Journal (Summer 1996).
This is an excerpt from The Real Gift of Christmas, by Dan Schaeffer.
You can help those who are hurting to keep trusting in God.