When I was a child, Christmas was one of the most anticipated seasons of the year. I couldn’t wait to find a pine tree for our living room, which would inevitably fall over, filling our floor with needles. My sisters and I would bake cookies the night before Christmas for Santa—of course we knew from an early age that our dad was the one to consume the cookies and milk. And by 5:00 a.m. we were up and ready to open gifts whether our parents were excited about that early morning wake-up call or not. There was something so thrilling about it all—the anticipation, the joy, the laughter, and every now and then the disappointment in a gift not received. But overall it was the most wonderful time of the year.
But then I grew up.
The Reality of Christmas
With age came the death of my father, the death of my sister, financial restraints, fear, despondency, and a fight to remember the wonder of the Christmas season. With age also came salvation. I became a Christian at the age of 22, which meant that what was thrilling about the Christmas season changed. The thrill of Hope became a Person and not only the seasonal traditions and external expressions of Christmastime. The reality of our Hope this Christmas can be lost in all the noise of joy—the Christmas songs, the decorations—but especially in the midst of sorrows and the absence of those who are no longer with us.
I never know exactly when it’s going to hit me, but when it does, it seems to come on like daggers piercing my heart. The celebrations during the holidays can be festive and exciting, but in the back of my mind I know that there are people missing. With every picture shared on social media about the fun and delight of family, I am given a reminder that two special members of my extended family are gone. Almost every holiday is a reminder to me that someone is missing. This, I know, isn’t isolated to me. Many of you have lost someone, or if you haven’t lost someone, your family is so steeped in conflict that it feels like you might as well have lost someone. Or, maybe the holiday season serves as a spotlight on financial struggles, marital strife, wayward or prodigal children…the list of potential difficulties goes on and on.
Your Pain Is Not Forgotten
Every Christmas season I read articles focused on the pain and sorrows associated with the holidays. It could be easy to think that has become more about routine and less about caring for those who hurt and grieve. It might even be tempting to view it as trite. But I want you to know that you are not forgotten. This season may be a fraction of what it once was but the Lord has something better, something good for you—He gives himself.
This Advent season, remember that Jesus entered into your pain the moment he went from being seated at the right hand of the Father to the womb of a woman. The moment Jesus chose to become Immanuel—God with us—He began fulfilling the words of Hebrews:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:14-16).
Grief and sorrow are the shadows that follow many of us around during the holidays. But there’s often something about the season that makes you and I think that we must put on a happy face and hide the pain we feel in our hearts. We don’t have to. The pain is real. The sorrow is real. Trials are hard to endure at times. God never once promised the Christian life would be without trials. On the contrary, as it has been said before, all one needs to do is live long enough and surely trials will arrive. So there is no date on the calendar that can take away the sadness and difficulties that we often face in life. No magic pill. No man-made celebration.
God can ease our pain and sorrow. God can give us peace. God can remind us of the joys of this life even in the midst of great sorrows. God also sent His Son who reminds us that we don’t suffer alone. Thankfully we have a Savior who relates to our suffering. Jesus is aware of and acquainted with the grief of man. He is acquainted with my grief and your grief. The God-Man endured trials and temptation but is without sin (Heb 4:15). He faced agony to the point that his sweat became like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). In his final moments on the cross, Mark records him saying, “’Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34).
His pain and suffering was for a purpose — the redemption of the world. He endured great pain and wrath, which I can only begin to imagine, on my behalf.
Rejoice in Hope that Won’t Put Us to Shame
However, paradoxical it may seem, you and I can rejoice in suffering because we have a living hope. This season, I know that my hope, the boy in the manger, will bring me to an eternal glory. I will one day rise and be with Christ forever. I can rejoice in suffering today because I know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put me to shame, because God’s love has been poured into my heart through the Holy Spirit who has been given to me (Rom 5:3–5).
We know Jesus is coming again, and as promised will one day wipe every tear away (Rev 21:4). The truth of these words and our future hope are some of the greatest comforts to us this holiday season. We may not be able to rejoice and celebrate with a fairytale happiness—but we can have real joy. This joy comes from knowing that we await something so much greater than any earthly celebration.