How a Tear-Stained Christmas Can Be a Great Christmas: Suffering, Pain and the Holidays

“I hate Christmas.” I heard those words at a store recently. I think I was just as surprised as the man who was with the woman who said this.

My mind raced at the moment. Why? More than likely pain, loss or suffering experienced in a past Christmas season or on Christmas day even, perhaps even, a lifetime of pain was the reason.

I rejected the sentiment. Isn’t this a sinful reaction to real, legitimate suffering? How does one rise above our painful experiences to find joy in the anniversary of the loss of a loved one or abuse or . . . ?

Maybe theology is to blame. If God is real, then suffering eases or even disappears, right? Surely, if God could remove pain, and He is loving and compassionate, then isn’t it logical that those He loves wouldn’t feel its sting?

Jesus came into this world introducing pain. Did you ever think about that? Mary was fine without the angel’s announcement complicating matters. She was betrothed to Joseph, a good man, a godly man, one who would be there for her in good times and bad through all of the rest of life’s journey. How could the introduction of a scandalous birth be good?

The whispers, the gossip, the exclusion and the outright contempt, all of these were contrary to the reputation of Mary. Certainly, she didn’t deserve this! How could a good God bring on her such agony?

It isn’t the absence of pain and suffering that proves God’s existence. Immanuel, God with us, is the promise of God’s presence even in our pain. The Messiah didn’t come down in full, heavenly splendor and strike the Romans dead. He didn’t clean house and install Himself on His rightful throne immediately. In fact, for Mary, and even Joseph, “God with us” meant scandal. Things got worse before they got better.

So, how did they do it? Mary didn’t say to the angel, “Oh no. You tell God that I’ve been a GOOD girl! Find someone else to mistreat and give this curse to. Not me!”

It was faith. To have Christmas be a reminder of pain and suffering and still to celebrate is perhaps one of the greatest displays of Christian faith. That’s what Mary and Joseph did. They believed.

Despite the scandal, they believed the words of the angel. In spite of the harsh reaction of people who didn’t understand, who didn’t believe as they did, they had faith. 

Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me as you have said.” 

Joseph, who was a righteous man and didn’t want Mary to go through public disgrace and had in mind to divorce her privately, instead, obeyed the angel, taking Mary as his wife. They embraced suffering for they were the Lord’s servants and God’s servants obey and believe, no matter what circumstances say.

I think what further helped them were the joys along the way. First they were encouraged by angelic visits. Next, they experienced the tale of the shepherds and their joy at seeing the baby the angels told them about. While minding her own business in the home, tending to her responsibilities no doubt, Mary was interrupted by a knock at the door and some surprise guests who worshiped and left gifts for "he who was born king of the Jews.”

For those of you who have experienced a painful Christmas from the past, it will take faith for you to have a merry Christmas this year or any year. You will have to believe that it isn’t the absence of pain or the elimination of pain (at least not yet) that is the joy of Christmas but the presence of God, Immanuel, “God with us,” in our pain that makes Christmas joyous. Happiness will have to be found, not in the memories of words, abuse or loss that is etched in stone in your memory but in the fact that whatever you experience, God is with you, Immanuel has come.

As you look for it, you will find those “angelic” visits, those reminders from heaven above that this is God’s plan and place for you and He has neither forgotten you nor has He abandoned you. There will be those visitors, who will come, yes, some visitors at Christmas get our eyes rolling and our voices sighing. Not them, I mean those people who enter and re-enter, even are always there, who bring with them presents of joy, laughter, hope and love. They are God’s reminder that He is there with you, even if your holiday season is mingled with tears.

And what is even better is the promise of Scripture that this Immanuel, God with us, had come, died for our sin, rose again and promised to return. With that return will be the removal of pain, suffering, evil, death and even tears! It is faith that causes you to celebrate this Christmas, even any Christmas. So don’t hate on the holy-day (holiday). Rather, embrace it as God’s gift to you, a reminder that He is with you even unto the end of the age and for all eternity, as you have faith in Him.

Merry Christmas!

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