Stores are playing Christmas carols and songs now. The decorations have appeared exponentially and even your neighbor down the street who never bothered to take his lights down finally lit them up with pride. People are getting into the Christmas spirit everywhere.
As I drive past the LED-lit trees at the entrance to my neighborhood, I wonder how this season sits with some of my friends for whom 2014 was full of pain and loss.
The holidays are hard for so many reasons. Too many friends had a death in the family in the past year. Some had marriages fall apart. Others just have tough relationships with their families. A season about family only makes it worse.
In times like these, the holidays feel like a bucket with a hole in the bottom; you can pour in as much Christmas cheer as you’d like but it still leaks.
I’m not sure that hole can ever be filled. But there is hope for the brokenhearted. In fact, that might be the whole point of Christmas. If so, then maybe there is a way our pain and suffering can draw us into the season, deepening our experience of God in it.
Lament and be Happy
Jeremiah is known as the Weeping Prophet. If anyone in the Bible was clinically depressed it was him so on our hunt for finding joy in the midst of pain Jeremiah seems like a good lead.
Like many of us do when life’s waves crash over us, Jeremiah looked to God for help and rescue. At first all he finds is sorrow. Let’s pick up with Jeremiah in Lamentations 3.
“I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath,” he writes.
Jeremiah does not pretend that God has nothing to do with his suffering. He places it directly at God’s feet. And he’s not shy about describing it, either.
Jeremiah says God did things like this to him:
Indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long (v. 3).
He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship (v. 5).
He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows (v. 12).
And my personal favorite:
He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust (v. 16)
Imagine feeling that way about God. Maybe you don’t have to imagine too much this Christmas season.
I used to have this weird idea that the point of the Bible – and therefore God – was to make my life perfect. Silly, I know, but that’s what I thought. And that perfection looked like an absence of the deep sorrow described by Jeremiah and sometimes felt in my heart and probably yours, too. It was an immature view. The Bible’s point is quite different as Jeremiah is about to show us.
After all of this Jeremiah summarizes:
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
But then Jeremiah surprises us by doing something different.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Notice how Jeremiah addresses God directly for the first time in this passage.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion therefore I will wait for him.”
From this point in the chapter on Jeremiah’s perspective changed.
Seeing New Compassions in Christmas
Jeremiah’s turning point came when he reflected on God’s goodness to him. What would happen if you followed his example and remembered the goodness of God in Christmas? I’m not suggesting it will alleviate your pain or change anything in your circumstances. But I am suggesting that like Jeremiah remembering the incredible goodness and mercy of God in the Christmas story will lend perspective to your pain.
What are the graces in the Christmas story that deepen our understanding of God through pain and suffering?
God’s plan is greater than we can imagine. So much of this story of Jesus’ birth was surprising. A virgin? Angels all over the place? The greatness of royalty laid in a common animal trough? Not what you expect. Yet, this is the way God chose to come to His people. Your story may not be what you expected either. Your sorrow might be greater than you dreamed possible. Keep watch, friend. You never know what things God will use to bring greatness from you.
God keeps His promises. When Jesus was born, the Jewish people had been over 400 years waiting for God to speak again. It was somewhere around 1000 years since God promised a descendant of David would rule in Jerusalem forever. It was about 1200 years since their ancestors took over the land promised some 800 years before that. This child fulfilled all the promises of God through millennia.
Here’s why I think this matters if you are in pain this Christmas: God has promised that Jesus is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). We may suffer in the meantime but God will make it right in the end. You can trust Him in this because of a baby laid in a manger.
God has tremendous love and compassion for you. Jesus is proof God loves you. It’s based on something in Him not something about you. The fact that God went to such great lengths to acquire you from the kingdom of darkness means you are valuable to Him.
If the holidays are hard this year, I encourage you not to run from it. Take your cares to the Lord and then count the ways He has blessed you and remember His mercies.