Merry Christmas from a little town in rural America! I’m spending three weeks here with my family.
I’ve not blogged much at all this year in Thailand, and most of what I posted wasn’t original. I passed on some cool youtube videos, a few devotional thoughts, and asked for money for my birthday fundraiser… great… but… I’ve not shared many of my own raw experiences. Blogging this year would have meant a lot of reflecting on things that aren’t easily packaged, and I confess – I’ve done too little reflecting. These days, back in the embrace and safety of my family, I’m beginning to process some things that absolutely rocked me in 2012. In several areas, my understanding of the world has radically changed.
Last night, one of my brothers sat long and listened as I tried to explain some of what I’ve learned. I felt like I had to give context for him to have space to climb into dialogue with me… Maybe selfishly I just want him to understand before he gave feedback. Who wants to share vulnerable thoughts when the only feedback you’ll get are ignorant questions? And if that happens, it’s nobody’s fault. Most of my loved ones are not ignorant because they don’t care – just simply because they don’t know. And how can they know unless I tell them?
I’m not alone here. In fact, many people are processing much more difficult experiences this Christmas. Many are asking honest and very frightening questions, whether aloud or deep inside. One of my dearest friends is grieving the loss of her husband of 24 years, and their sons grieve their father. Other friends battle debilitating pain and illness – one ominously told, “The cancer is back.” Several other acquaintances face uncertainty about the future – financial challenges – lack of job security – relationship challenges that seem irreconcilable – not to mention the dramas playing out on a national scale. As I sat in an airport last Friday, people crowded around television monitors, watching news reports about the economic standstill and 26 bells ringing through a moment of silence in Newtown, Connecticut. Each bell representing a life…
It was the bells that took my mind back to a familiar Christmas carol. There in the airport, my mind remembered a sad stanza of a carol, which acknowledges our world’s broken reality without a sense of hope.
“And in despair I bowed my head:
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.’”
As I hummed the tune, I thought of the many people gripped with despair this Christmas. I wondered how many people were overwhelmed with the evil their eyes see – how many heads bowed in sadness and hearts consumed with suffering, confusion, and grief deeply felt. I confess, sometimes, I feel discouraged by what my eyes see. I know there are even people living completely without hope – resigned internally to a capricious world of chaos. They feel harassed by words of peace and joy, as if life is a cruel joke. As I watched a small cross-section of the world’s population moving through the airport, I wondered, “What is their experience of Christmas this year?” And more importantly, “How can a baby in a manger speak into real chaos and pain?”
As I continued humming, I let the lyrics of the following stanza roll repeatedly through my mind,
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.’”
Maybe the loud, deep pealing of bells is like the deep places of human pain, crying out for deeper realities of truth. A platitude won’t suffice when a heart is broken, and a beautiful manger scene can’t touch a widow’s grief unless the truth of Emmanuel reality goes deeper than the feeling of today.
How does a baby in a manger change anything? If that baby is just a baby from a nice holiday story, nothing changes. But, if that baby is God? Would that make a difference in a dark night of a human soul?
That baby in a manger. Proof of God caring enough to approach us in our darkness – not from a position of judgement, wrath, or aloof observation – but from a position of humility, mercy, and connection.
Jesus took on baby skin and connected Himself eternally to the destiny of the human race. God – the very creator and sustainer of all things – made Himself a frail human being to identify with our frailty. He knows grief. He knows weakness. He understands confusion and chaos. He lived here – in this desperate world. He took on Himself every pain, sickness, suffering, and tragedy – becoming like us to not only share our pain, but to carry it for us. Then, in death, He took it all to the grave, and in resurrection, He defeated it! What does this mean to us? With the God, Creator, and Sustainer of the universe playing on our team, we cannot lose. If God is for us, who can be against us?
God’s gift of love to us was the best and dearest that He had – His dear Son – come to earth to become a sacrifice for our salvation. He who did not withhold His own son, how will He not freely, along with Jesus, give us all things?
What an undeniable, unbeatable hope – rooted in nothing else but God’s nature! God is love. God is righteous. God is just. Jesus paid for victory with His flesh and blood. And so, no matter what our circumstance may say right now, God in His goodness, righteousness, and justice will prevail.
Jesus’ coming radically changed the game plan all those years ago. Even today, by His Spirit, He is here. He has not left us. He will not abandon us. He is with us through it all! And, He longs to share with us His eternal perspective. In Jesus, God opened the door for us to relate directly to Him. Now, He waits for us to do just that in all our experiences. As we expose our brokenness to His light, we will be surprised at how His coming transforms. No matter how dark the days become, this baby in a manger makes all the difference!
The angels’ song to the shepherds still echoes down through the years, “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14) God has good will in his heart toward humanity. He became one of us. He is for us and He is with us.
“Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!”
Let’s embrace Emmanuel reality – this Christmas and always.