Monday, December 18, 2006

Life is Not Long, But It's Hard: A Christmas Reflection

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more."

-- Matthew 2:16-18

My good friend and fellow BCC blogger Dirk Plantinga has a heartfelt post up this week on holiday suffering. It is an unavoidable reflection for those going through some very difficult stuff right now; and it ought to be a required reflection for those of us who call ourselves worshipers of Jesus. As we celebrate the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ this Christmas season, we ought to never forget it is the Incarnation we are celebrating. The Incarnation, in which God Himself deigned to take on the messy, fleshy, vulnerable, hard-going, troublesome, temptation-fraught, hurt-filled mantle of all it means to be human in a messed up world, is the cornerstone idea of what it means to have Jesus for us.

So while it does not often ease our troubles or grief, it certainly gives meaning to them. It has been this way since the first Christmas. Remember that Joseph had to take his wife and child away from Bethlehem to escape the murderous King Herod. So even 2000 years ago, while Mary and Joseph were celebrating their eldest son's birthday every year, there were many families remembering the day Herod's men came to kill their children. The day that marked the coming of salvation in the birth of Jesus was a day of agonizing memories for many.

This is the double edge of Christmas. While there is joy, there is grief. While there is family and friendship, there is loneliness. While there is fun, there is hurt.
This is the double edge of the Incarnation of Jesus. Jesus was born to die. The fullness of God became the frailty of man. And this was for us too.

Did Jesus grieve the loss of friends and family? Did Jesus suffer hurt and harm? Did Jesus ever feel abandoned or lonely? Did Jesus worry about his family? Did Jesus agonize over the future? Did Jesus die?
If you know your Bible, you know the answer to all of these questions is yes.

This is why we worship Jesus Christ with such fervency this time of year, and why we should do so every day of every year. Not because He is the exalted God so far removed from our lives and concerns, but because He immersed Himself in our lives and concerns, and because He still does. Does He know life is short and hard? He does. He knows not just in a God omniscient sort of way, but in a sweating blood, where-are-my-friends?, extremities pierced, back flayed, Father-forgive-them, suffocating on a cross, dead at the young age of 33 sort of way.

There is an ironic joy in having a Lord who knows what it's like to be me and you. And we find joy knowing the story does not end there.
In his new book Simply Christian, N.T. Wright writes:
From the very beginning, two thousand years ago, the followers of Jesus have always maintained that he took the tears of the world and made them his own, carrying them all the way to his cruel and unjust death to carry out God's rescue operation; and that he took the joy of the world and brought it to new birth as he rose from the dead and thereby launched God's new creation.

Jesus came to die, but he came to give life. Jesus died, but he lives. He is in the death-defying business.
The lonely will be comforted, the betrayed will be befriended, the grieving will be rejoicing, the hurting will be healed. The dead will live.
Maybe not today or tomorrow, but in the "fullness of time." Life is hard; thank God, then, that it is short, right? :-)

In Matthew 2:19-21 we read that after Joseph, Mary, and infant baby Jesus (thank you, Ricky Bobby) fled Herod's murderous henchmen in fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy, Herod himself succumbed to death. And an angel visited the family in Egypt and told them the news. The fullness of that time had come, so the family went home.

So many people need the peace that passes understanding right now. And most of them will not find it apart from our being Jesus to them.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.


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