Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12


“… and right before Christmas!”

Bad news is nothing new to any of us.  We have all seen our share of it, and we all know others who have it even worse than ourselves.  There is even a reported axiom in the news media that goes “If it bleeds it leads”.  If it weren’t for bad news there wouldn’t be much news at 6:00, 10:00, or 11:00 pm.  Recent events are no exception.  In the last week alone there have been terrible snowstorms stranding hundreds in their cars on the highway for a day or more and collapsing stadium roofs, there have been torrential rains and devastating floods and fires ruining people’s homes and businesses. Outside of the cataclysmic weather stories there have also been the regular parade of  stories involving violent crimes, gang shootings, break and enters, vandalism and more.  There has been much misery that has been particularly newsworthy of late.

But last night as I watched all of these and more unfold on the news, I was struck by a refrain heard again and again in one story of disaster and despair after another.  “… and right before Christmas!”  As each person stood before the broken remains of their house or home, their peace, and security, or family well-being; each in their turn took up the same litany of pain and grief crying out “… and right before Christmas too!”

What I was witnessing over and over again was the heart-felt religious expression of those who have come to the dark night of the soul.  That moment when all their convictions are brought into sharp contrast with reality.  And it was humbling to watch.  With each new voice added to that psalm of lament, the unanswerable question loomed clearer and clearer.  How could such a thing happen now?  Why Now?  It was as plain as the grief in their voices, that their suffering was only heightened by the fact that in their understanding  things should be very different.

What each one in turn was crying out for one and all to hear is that somehow, in someway, for some reason, Christmas should be different.  When was the last time you heard someone who lost a home to flooding or a fire cry out “… and right before Labour Day too!”  “How could this happen so close to Canada Day?”  “And to think it should come to this on Family Day!”  I don’t mean to belittle, anyone’s suffering, going through such tragedies on any day of the year is very difficult … but why should it be even harder to face just because it’s right before Christmas?

Because people believe Christmas should be different somehow.  People believe that there should be no pain, or suffering or tragedy or heartache on Christmas.  People believe that Christmas should be a reprieve from normal life, which is full of all this pain and suffering.

But in thinking this way people miss the real meaning of Christmas … for Christmas is not a reprieve from normal life, but in a sense, a fulfillment of such.  Christmas is the celebration of that time when the Lord God Almighty, everlasting and omnipotent creator and ruler of the cosmos, chose to become part of the “normalcy” of our broken human life.  Born into family discord, scandal and raised eyebrows.  Born away from the warmth and safety of a home. Born into poverty, want, and danger.  Faced with violence, oppression, and grief from day one.  And still it will not be over until many years later and the betrayals, the torture, the cross, and the painful death. Christmas has it all … and then some.  By the standards we tend to put on our own Christmases the first Christmas was an abject, heartbreaking failure.

But that’s the point of it all.  Christ came among us, came as one OF us, on that first Christmas, not to be a reprieve from our normal life, but to take part in it. Every last sad, and bitter piece of it!  And that’s the incredible news in all this … Christmas is where the convictions of God’s love for mankind comes into sharp contact with our reality.  Where the Heavenly One becomes so earth-bound it hurts (unto death).  But there is no dark night of the soul here!  Instead, the heavens are opened up and the night is filled with a glorious light. As God comes down from heaven into our world of struggles and pain and suffering, the angel hosts cry out in the litany of  hope and joy “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth!”

Christmas is different, but not in that we should be free from suffering.  It is different, in that our God, out of His undying love for you, took your suffering upon Himself.  Christmas brings peace, not in the lack of grief, but in grief placed upon our Lord’s infant shoulders.  Christmas brings healing, not in the avoidance of pain (if only for a while), but in the wounds of Jesus by which one and all are fully and finally healed.  Christmas does grant a reprieve to all that pain and sorrow … but not here, and not yet …  In the meantime it offers us something very different. It offers us a God who has been there and suffered all that.  It offers us a God and will be right here with us through it all, sharing in our pain, that we might likewise share in His joy.  Christmas is not the time to cry out Why Me? or Why Now? It is the time to cry out Thanks be to Him!


I Can See Clearly Now!

Recently I had to get a new pair of glasses.  I knew that it was coming.  Things in the distance weren’t always clear, I was beginning to squint a lot more, the headaches were becoming a more regular occurrence.  All the signs were there (and had been for over a year) if only I stopped to look at them … pardon the pun.

But then that’s the problem isn’t it.  We don’t often stop to look.  We might make a quick mental note, and then just as quickly shuffle it off and simply get on with things.  Life is very busy after all, and we’ve all got things that need to be done.  Who has time to stop and deal with every little thing.  Very quickly we don’t even notice the blurriness, or the squinting, or (the cause of) the headaches.  It’s just the way things are.  And maybe we even get to the point where we begin to believe that its the way things have always been.  “I don’t think I’ve ever been able to read that sign!”

And in the short term that might save us a little time and worry.  It might make things go smoothly for a while.  But sooner or later, everything we put off in the name of expediency and “gettin’ er done” will come back and need to be looked at.  Assuming, like me, that you can still see it when the time comes!

But then something amazing happens.  You sit in that optometrist’s chair and one after another he describes all the things you’ve been suffering through without even realizing.  He asks a couple of questions “Which one is better? Number 1? Number two? Again? The first one? The second?” A little light here, a drop or two there, a prescription for new lenses … and all of a sudden your life looks completely different.  And you wonder why it took you so long to wake up and open your eyes.

Our spiritual eyesight, our faith life, is very much the same.  In the press and hurry of life it is so easy to shuffle the things of God to the back burner so we can get on with all that stuff that needs doing. The Christmas season is especially prone to this.  Over time, and without sometimes even noticing, we can let the things of God get fuzzy and indistinct.  Or we wake up to find ourselves looking at the promises of God only through eyes all squinted up by pain and hurt and anxieties – blurring those promises into something nearly unrecognizable.  What’s worse, the longer we refuse to stop and look at the signs, the easier it can become to believe that its the way things have always been.  “I don’t think I ever really believed that.” “I don’t think this was ever really that important to me.”

But sooner or later, the God we have put off in the name of expediency and “gettin’ it done” will come back and need to be looked to.  Assuming, that you can still see Him when the time comes!

Advent is God’s prescription for keeping that spiritual blindness from happening.  It is a God given opportunity to sit down and look again at our life.  To slow down, and join Him again in a meaningful conversation.  To hear once again, as He describes in His Word all that you have been suffering through and struggling with.  To put a little Gospel light upon the problem, a little bit of that Baptismal water and its promises.  To begin to see life again through the lens of Jesus Christ, this Christmas Baby, came into our world to bring life and light through the blood of His cross.  When you begin to see your life through the lens of this love and these promises, everything will be so much clearer.  And you will love what you are now able to see!