It is Christmas time. I love Christmas, and I usually have some words about joy, and Jesus, and grace to share this time of year. All those words are true, Christmas is a time for joy because Jesus came to earth in grace for us. The overwhelming gratitude I usually feel at Christmas time, for my salvation, for the fact that I get to celebrate the birth of the one who saved my life from sin and destruction… I still feel that deep down inside. But I have to admit this year I am struggling. Sadness is staying around the edges of my mind, coloring the glow of Christmas a different shade… the glow is still there, light always shines in the darkness… it just isn’t as warm as usual.
This year, I have seen the world for what it really is… I have watched and I have listened. And right now I am overwhelmed by the level of hard that saturates life in this world. My life hasn’t been a piece of cake up until now and I am not naive. I’ve lived through poverty, divorce, death of a parent, disease, abuse. Even though life on Earth has not been rainbows and unicorns for me, I have generally fought to put more effort in spreading hope and encouragement than anything else. But, as I said, this year I am struggling… I am tired and I am sad.
I am sad that I live in a world that is so ugly, so hateful, and so quick to tear down others. I have listened as people say terrible things about those around them-people they don’t really know or understand. I have been hurt by gossip and jealousy, I have watched as families crumble, I have listened as people justify behavior that is selfish and destructive. I’ve watched and listened to both Christians and those who don’t know Jesus, and I am struck by how often I can’t tell which is which.
Then, there is the suffering. I’ve watched people close to me suffer in ways that leave me broken inside, wishing with every thing in me that I could relieve their pain for a second but completely helpless to do so. Praying for their relief, weeping with them in silence, all the while wracking my brain to remember any possible thing I could say… something about God, about peace, about faith, about purpose… anything to give relief.
This world sucks. I’ve said or heard this easily a hundred times this year.
So, when I came across these words, I remembered why.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth. The thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…”
This world has been broken since Genesis 2. The entire Bible has story after story of the suffering of God’s people because this world is broken. But the promise of the birth of one little baby changed everything, not because the world would no longer be broken, but because we would no longer be slaves to the hopelessness of the broken world. That is the point for us as Christians, the reason why I can still feel the glow of Christmas, even in the sadness of this incredibly hard world… the thrill of hope.
“Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79) The new and glorious morning broke and the birth of Jesus brought hope for us.
Yes, this world hurts. People hurt. People are hurting. But this is not our home, for those who believe in Jesus this is as close to Hell as we get: “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to His name.” (Hebrews 13:14-15)
Sacrifice often defines the lives of those who love God. For the Israelites, the sacrifice was in the form of animals brought to the temple. For Jesus, it was taking upon himself the full pain of sin before giving His life. For us who belong to Him, it is our comfort, our desires, our bad attitudes, our pride, our jealousy, and too often sacrifice comes in the form of persevering in faith even while in a pit of suffering. But we are never to sacrifice our HOPE. That cannot be taken away from us, it was born in a manger, hung on a cross, and now sits at the right hand of the Father, waiting to return to make this world whole once again.
Sadness will come and go. The world will continue to be broken. But I will cling to the thrill of hope this Christmas season. Let us remember that this world is not our home so it will be hard for us sometimes. Let us take care of each other in the difficulty, fighting for instead of against one another and lifting up the faces of those who are suffering. Our reward is not here… but because our savior was born in a manger, we will get one.