This reflection was triggered by the end-of-year issue of World Magazine which lists the prominent deaths that occurred in 2016. Every news magazine does a similar feature every year and I suppose in previous years I read them with some form of detached numbness.
What was different this time was the understanding that while we may lament the loss of a prominent celebrity, each person in the list had family members that have lost brothers, fathers, uncles, etc. (or their female equivalents).
Perhaps it is because several families in my church have recently encountered unexpected deaths that this edition of World magazine impacted me in this way. But reflecting on this and my own experiences in 2016, have combined to make this Christmas seem different to me.
If Christmas is only about giving gifts, attending parties and generating warm feelings about the people around us, it has very little to offer in response to the very real and intense suffering of those who have experienced such loss. My guess is that the families that have experienced the untimely deaths would gladly exchange every Christmas present for the rest of their lives to have their beloved back.
Into this chaos, God send a baby. As Christians we recognize that baby as the second person of the Trinity, God who became man. God not only sees our plight, but has come down to live among us to effect the cure.
The cost of that cure was for Jesus, the god-man, to experience our sin and experience our alienation from God so that we could then be reconciled to God. The babe in the manger came to die so that we can experience new life.
So Christmas does provide an answer to the suffering we see around us. Paul tells us in Galatians,
“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5, NASB)
I do not mean to indicate that reflecting on the real meaning of Christmas removes the pain of loss for those who have experienced it this year. We are not so silly as to think that reflecting on the ultimate victory over death that was won on the cross, removes the pain that we experience now. Separation from our loved ones is and always will be painful.
But it should give us a glimmer of hope that the pain and loss did not take God by surprise. He experienced the pain of the loss of his own son, and he stands beside us as we experience the pain. The same Jesus that wept over the grave of Lazarus, weeps over every loss we experience. The writer of Hebrews tells us:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, NASB)
Jesus has experienced the human condition. And the result of his experience is that he is an effective intercessor for us before the Father. We have a listening ear in Jesus who understands the difficulties we are encountering.
So while we enjoy the gifts that we give and receive this Christmas, let us be continually mindful of the greater gift that lends his name to this holiday. Without him, all our celebration this season would be nothing more than whistling in the dark.