It’s that time of year again: evergreen trees, gingerbread, carols, holiday cheer, family, and gifts. Christmas is here! But as people are hanging up stockings, children are making gift wish lists, and relatives are coming to town, I can’t help but think of those for whom Christmas is a difficult time of year. This may be because a loved one’s absence is most sharply felt around the holidays, and those we consider friends or family might not be with us this Christmas. Maybe finances are tight, making it challenging to give gifts to others this year. Or maybe depression has crept in, and cheerful songs and happiness are difficult to muster. What does the Bible have to say to encourage us?
Acquainted With Pain and Difficulty
In the rush of the season, it can be easy for many of us to brush over the painful and lonely parts of the Christmas story. When I think of Jesus’s arrival on earth, I often picture the angels appearing to the shepherds, the wise men bearing gifts, or the bright and shining star. However, that is not a complete portrait. Yes, Jesus’s birth was a miracle. Yes, it was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But Jesus was also born during a time of political tension and oppression between the Romans and the Jews. Jesus’s conception nearly broke up an engagement (Matthew 1:19); and Jesus’s birth sent a young couple fleeing from their homeland in fear for the life of their newborn (Matthew 2:13-15).
Jesus’s arrival was heralded by angels bringing a message of peace and joy, but it was also surrounded by separation and bloodshed. After Jesus’s birth, King Herod issued a decree to murder all the male children two years old and younger (Matthew 2:16). In order to preserve Jesus’s life, Mary and Joseph were forced to leave their country and family behind. Furthermore, by many cultural standards, Jesus’s family was socially marginalized. Mary and Joseph had a child conceived and born out of wedlock, in a manger among animals (Luke 2:4-7). They were poor—they could only afford to buy pigeons when they brought Jesus to the temple (See Leviticus 12:8 and Luke 2:24)—and they became immigrant refugees in Egypt. They were no strangers to suffering.
Full of Promise and Hope
Amid these difficulties, the Bible also gives us hope. The birth of Jesus was prefaced by the prophetic pregnancy of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, that brought hope and joy to a couple who had longed for a child. Each time angels appeared to foretell Jesus’s coming, they prefaced it by encouraging their listener not to be afraid (Matthew 1:20, Luke 1:30, Luke 2:10). Later, despite Herod’s attempts to kill Jesus, God preserved Jesus’s life by sending an angel to tell them to flee (Matthew 2:7-8, 13). When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to be presented at the temple, they were greeted by Simeon, “a good, God-fearing man, waiting for Israel to be saved” (Luke 2:25). He took Jesus into his arms and gave thanks to God, declaring that God’s promise had been kept (Luke 2:26-28). Simeon had been promised that he would not die before seeing the Lord’s Christ. In all these instances, God’s peace, care, and provision shone through suffering.
In the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s birth, we see that the Christmas story is both acquainted with pain and difficulty, and full of promise and hope. To an aging, barren couple who had prayed for a child, God brought the joy of a miraculous birth (Luke 1:7, 13). To a nation that had been ravaged by Roman rule, God promised the eternal reign of a great king—the Son of God (Luke 1:31-33). And to a waiting, righteous man, God brought the joy of salvation (Luke 2:30). Amid turmoil and longing, God came down to earth. The Bible gives us hope that God knows and sees our struggles, and responds to them with love.
God With Us
This Christmas, God sees us where we are. Regardless of where we find ourselves, we are not forgotten by or hidden from God. Not only does God see us where we are, but God also comes to us. Just as Jesus stepped into the messy, painful, difficult reality of the world at that time, God comes into ours. The first chapter of John tells us that God’s Word became human and lived among us (John 1:14). God came into our uncomfortable, broken lives and brought the hope of Christ. Christ is our Immanuel, our “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
My prayer for those of us who face difficulty, challenges, or struggles this Christmas is that we would find hope in the story of Jesus’s birth, encouragement from a God who has encountered great pain, and comfort from a Savior who is very present. I invite you to read Isaiah 9:2-7, an Old Testament passage often quoted around Christmas.
Dear God, I pray that as we enter the Christmas season, we would feel Christ’s presence near to us. Jesus came as light and hope into a dark and suffering world over two thousand years ago, and was our Prince of Peace. I pray that this year, Christ would come into our lives and be our light, our hope, our comfort, and our peace. Amen.
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