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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Power of Suffering

The Hardships of Christmas

For many people who celebrate Christmas, it is not always the joyous time depicted in movies and advertising.  Many struggle through the holidays instead, for a variety of reasons.  Some face the holiday with grief as they approach their first Christmas without a loved one who passed away this year.  Perhaps a family member has been taken to prison, or a child removed from a home, and that absence creates intense emotion at this time of year.  Others see in the Christmas all the things they are no able to provide, or all the family who is ashamed of them or wants nothing to do with them.  Perhaps worst of all is the suffering of those who will go to sleep Christmas Eve hungry, on the verge of starvation, sleeping not in a bed but wherever they can find to rest their heads because they have no home, some of whom are suffering as innocents from the ravages of war.

There are a lot of reasons people struggle at Christmas, and one of them is due to the aftermath of divorce.   Traditions are suddenly undone or shattered as schedules have to be disrupted and adapted for children trying to celebrate Christmas with each of their parents, whom they love.  Even faith can be tested as one who had hoped God would spare them the agony of divorce, instead find themselves alone and forsaken by their spouses.   

All the pain, heartache, disappointment…suffering…just doesn’t seem to fit as appropriate t he celebration of Jesus’s birth.  Or does it?

A thoughtful reflection on the Nativity Story leads one not only to a Baby in a manger adored by shepherds and magi.  

It also contains a young couple weary from a long and inconvenient journey, forced to accept shabby housing in lieu of space in an inn.  

The story includes a king filled with jealousy and hatred, who responded only in anger when he feels threatened by a newborn king.  

Nativity includes the wailing of the parents in Bethlehem, whose children are slaughtered by soldiers commanded to destroy any chance of a usurper of the throne by their jealous and maniacal king.  

As if the young couple had not struggled enough, they were forced to flee as refugee immigrants to the land of Egypt, lest their child be caught up in the wholesale slaughter of children in Bethlehem.  

Christmas is not only about angels singing, it is also bound up with the story of human suffering.  

Sadly, this same story continues to our day in many places around our world, who are under the rule of tyrants and assassins.  As well as the countries whose rulers are nicely dressed and comfortably housed intent on enriching their own treasuries and indifferent to the struggles of those who live there.  

In fact, the central theme of the Nativity Story is specifically the suffering of the world, the suffering humans and creation have experienced in the slavery brought on by sinful attitudes, attitudes and hearts.  So maybe if Christmas is difficult for you this year, perhaps you are actually closer to the heart of Christmas than you realize.

If that is you, though I don’t normally recommend books I have not yet read, I would offer suggestion of a book I just received from a friend as a Christmas gift. It is a book he and I have discussed several times, and from which he has shared some meaningful insights:  Glorious Ruin—How Suffering Sets You Free by Tullian Tchividjian.  Or consider the classic (which I HAVE read) The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis.  

In a world that seeks to escape suffering whenever possible, it is important to remember that some of the inescapable sufferings bring the most meaningful learnings.  I would remind you, in whatever kind of celebration you have for Christmas, that suffering was at the core of the original Christmas:  it was only through the hardships of travel that the Messiah fulfilled prophecy in his Bethlehem birth, and it was only through the intense pain and travail of labor, that the Messiah entered the world to bring salvation to all who would believe.  

Don’t give up just because you are facing suffering or hardship, for you might miss something powerful just beyond the next bend.

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