Suffering, God and Christmas

Several close friends around me have recently experienced significant heartache and suffering.  Like many of you reading this I’ve found myself in quite a quandary – wanting to say something to comfort, but realizing there is very little you can say.  That’s OK.  What our friends and family usually need in times of suffering are not our words, but the simplicity of our presence and love.

But how do we reconcile pain, suffering and heartache with the goodness of God?  We’re told that God is good, great, loving and kind. So how do I make sense of the suffering and pain all around us?  How can we sing of Joy and Peace at Christmas when it seems like those are the last two things we feel?

It occurs to me that rarely in the Christmas season do I reflect on the true reason for the season.  I’m afraid most of us – Christian or not – miss the actual reason for the season.  Don’t get me wrong here – we’re good at piously railing against the materialism of the season.  We like to preach against hustle and bustle.  We like to say that the chaos of family craziness, the stress of getting everything just right and Black Friday insanity is the result of not keeping our focus on the true meaning of Christmas: Baby Jesus, Love, Joy, Peace etc.

I believe we’ve got it all wrong though.  This may sound blasphemous, but Jesus isn’t the reason for the season.  Hold on before you burn me at the stake and label me a heretic.  What does the Bible say the reason for all the nativity sets, plays and Christmas carols are for?

Matthew 1:18, 21   This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit…She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Because…of the brokenness of mankind.  Because of the chaos, darkness, pain, and suffering of a world destroyed by sin.  So Jesus isn’t the reason for the season – we are.  Your angry boss is. Your inconsiderate neighbor is.  Your stressful family is.  Your loved one stricken with cancer is.  You are the reason for the season.  Us. Sinners. This is why there is a manger.

Suffering, pain, heartache, betrayal and brokenness all exist because of sin.  We are all broken people living in a broken world with other broken people.  This is the reason Christmas exists.  God initiated His move to make all things right by sending His son Jesus to save us from sin.  How has Jesus done this?  Through suffering and pain on a cross.  The Cross was simultaneously the worst thing and the best thing.  This is why Paul could write these words:

2 Corinthians 4:8-18 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; … knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. …  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

When you see pain, suffering and sin this holiday season remember that this is why Christmas exists to start with.  If you’re suffering – Don’t lose heart.  Jesus is still making all things new.  One day our faith will become sight.  The Glory of that day will be beyond our wildest imagination, because of Christmas – not despite it!

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