Probably like you, my heart feels heavy these days. Even if you have turned off the tv, you’ve heard more details of Newtown. Someone has shared a personal connection with you, another has asked for a specific prayer related to a family or you’ve even heard that the fools from Westboro are coming to protest at the funeral and your anger and hurt has only been enflamed even more (a post on Westboro coming soon). We find ourselves asking, “What kind of a world is this?”
One of the comments I’ve heard most often in recent days is “I don’t see how anyone can be in the Christmas spirit now.” I can relate but it has nothing to do with wanting to get lost in the “holiday glee.” While I do enjoy some of the fun elements of Christmastime like candy canes, silly songs and driving around and seeing the lights – the cool ones and the tacky ones however, it’s more because I like our quirky culture and also because I like fun. These are the things that most of us can go without.
The difficult parts for Christmas is the coming together during painful moments. I’ve never forgotten one of our tougher Christmases. It was the year we grieved the loss of Susan’s brother and were further overwhelmed by our infertility (and also other factors that I won’t get into here). I some times wonder if it weren’t for my cousin’s children (and the annual hilarity of my dad handing out Christmas presents with what could be one of the older Santa hats you’ve ever seen) if I would have smiled at all in my parent’s living room. Because what I wanted to do was stay in my home and avoid it all.
The harder Christmases are the ones when we are grieving either lost family members/dear friends and on a different level, grieving an unfortunate life event like a divorce, a job loss or a health need. Everything else seems most trivial during these times. I remember one woman whose family was grieving the loss of her husband told me, “We’re not doing any decorating, we’re not doing gift-buying, we’re just going to the Christmas Eve service then making our favorite foods and spending time together.” She finished with a strong “That’s it.” That’s the core of Christmas right there.
I think it’s fair to say that collectively we are not just mourning the tragedy in Newtown. Such tragedies are not isolated moments for us but rather they show us yet again how painful and horrific this world can be. Some will say that we live in such isolation from all the pain around us that it takes a natural disaster or a tragedy of this kind to wake us up and see what’s going on around us. In organizing our lives to shield us from pain and evil is where the disconnect begins. I’ll agree that’s the first part. The second part of our inner pain is that we realize that we do not really have an answer for the evil.
It’s in these moments that we realize our immortality. We realize our frailty. We see that despite the infrastructures, safeguards, the laws, the practicalities even the luxuries – this life is fleeting.
It’s here where someone religious will say, “That’s why I believe in God” and perhaps offer their specific creed.
Of course I too believe in God but I often push back for clarification because I think it will only be a matter of time before you realize that you’re going to need a better reason to believe in God. Is danger the only reason you believe in God? This sounds more like escapism than faith.
What if you could live your life with a fairly limited amount of pain comparatively to others – would that mean you didn’t need God that much? We are not to believe in God only to help us through the difficult days – God is not an insurance policy. Rather we are to believe in God in all times – the bad, the good, the ugly and the joyful. That’s the story of Christmas – God came near to be with us.
These are among the truths discovered during the painful Christmases. But it is not merely “God with us” watching us grieve or the exact opposite of observing our gratitude for enjoying a life void of personal tragedy at the moment. “Emmanuel”, “God with us” is the person and way of life offered to all of humanity. The Christmas story announces that there is an answer to the evil, a hope in the midst of despair and an answer to the complicated questions.
Among them offers insight to the “What kind of a world is this?” question. The Christmas story tells us that this world is doomed drenched in despair, it’s evil and laden with death. But it also tells us that God was grieved by this too. And in His compassion, and in His timing, in ways that we can barely understand, He personally came near to show us there can be hope, true goodness, and life. It seems that God has answered that question by saying, “This world is worth redeeming from the pain and the tragedies found in our existence.” This life, this salvation is found in Him – in the way and the person of the Savior Jesus.