By Jody Bennett
Most people are familiar with the basics of the Christmas story and the manger scene of baby Jesus in the hay; however, they might think 'well so what? Even if that is the historical basis for Christmas, it is irrelevant to me now in the 21st century.'
Christmas, to many, has come to mean presents, food and maybe some time off.
For some, though, it is not even a festive holiday but a hard time. Christmas may bring with it unnecessary debt, unwanted expectations, demanding social engagements and painful memories of family members who are no longer with us or relationships that have broken down.
How is the 2000-year-old birth of a peasant child in Israel of any comfort to us in our post-modern sufferings?
Well, the first comfort we can derive from it is in the Child's name. In the Bible book of Matthew, chapter 1, the angel tells Mary that she will have a Son by supernatural conception and "they will call Him Immanuel, which means 'God is with us'." (verse 23)
There is a poignant song by Michael Card called 'Mary, did you know?' which includes these words:
today?"Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God."
Jesus was God wrapped in human flesh and walking the dusty roads of Judea. God is not far away, unconcerned, too holy to know our pain and suffering. God came down to be right here with us, in the midst of the mess we make of our lives. God is with us. He is with you in your hurting this Christmas, and not just as an impartial spectator but as a loving Father, who wants to help you in your circumstances, if you will only invite Him into your life.
Secondly, Christmas shows us that God fulfills His promises – even if He sometimes takes, what we think is, a very long time to do so.
Bibles have only a page or two between the final prophecies of Malachi and the opening of Matthew with the genealogy of Jesus, but in reality there were over 400 years between the last prophecies of the Old Testament and the life of Jesus Christ.
They are called the "400 years of silence". God didn't speak and there was no evidence of Him doing what He had promised to, but He was at work – as the genealogy attests – bringing about His purposes to come into the world and fulfil hundreds of promises made over many generations, including the promise made right at the beginning in the Garden of Eden, to crush Satan's head.
Numbers 23:19 says, "God isn't a mere human. He can't lie. He isn't a human being. He doesn't change His mind. He speaks, and then He acts. He makes a promise, and then He keeps it." (New International Readers Version)
What sort of things has God promised in the Bible? He has promised not to turn away anyone who comes to Him. He has promised to remove our sins as far as the East is from the West, and wash us white as snow. He has promised to never leave or forsake His children; to hear our prayers; to turn everything that happens to us for good; to save us from eternal death and to take us home to be with Him in a place without suffering forever.*
The third thing that Christmas says to the suffering is "open your eyes and look, God is in the most unexpected places. If you can't see Him, you are looking in the wrong place." The wise men went to find Jesus in a palace but He was born in a cattle shed. As an adult, He hung out in the homes of sinners, interrupted funerals and walked out into the middle of a lake.
The Jews were so busy looking for a conquering King to rescue them from the Romans that they missed the suffering Servant who came to rescue them from their sin. They understood one type of suffering, but God saw a much greater problem.
God will not fit your box or do as you expect, but don't miss the fact that He is right there doing something more wonderful in your suffering than you could imagine.
This too will pass
And, finally, Christmas tells us our suffering, no matter how awful, is temporary. (Unless we reject God, of course, then it will be eternal.)
Christmas is just the beginning of the story – Jesus came as a baby but He grew, taught, died and rose again to show us that there is life after life, that there is hope after death and that we can enjoy a forever in which there will be no more pain, suffering, tears or hardship - if we choose Him.
So if the festive season is difficult for you this year, take heart, God is not a helpless baby in a crib, He is a resurrected, all-powerful King. Trust Him with your life and He will resurrect it too.•
* See John 6:37; Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 1:18; Hebrews 13:5; 1 John 5:14; Romans 8:28; Romans 6:23; Revelation 21:3-4.