by Joanie Butman
My sister, Mary Frances, received an alarming health diagnosis recently. When my mother learned of it, her first response was to suggest cancelling our annual Christmas gathering. I understand her gut reaction as I have often been tempted to do the same, feeling guilty celebrating Christmas while those I love are in pain. However, I’ve learned from experience that there is no better time to celebrate the hope of Christmas than in the midst of suffering. As I mentioned last week, life is messy. Christ was born in a mess, but the hope He gifted to us on that first Christmas is His promise not to leave it that way. Christmas is the pivotal point of God’s restoration mission.
Sadly, suffering and tragedy don’t take holidays. Life goes on as usual: people die, the news from the doctor isn’t good, the dreaded surgeries still occur. And those are just samples from the emails I received the past few days. As much as we’d like it to be, life isn’t tidy or orderly. So why would we expect Christmastime to be any different?
Think about the first Christmas. I’m sure traveling to Bethlehem on a donkey didn’t factor into Mary’s nesting instincts as she prepared for the arrival of her child. Giving birth in a dirty stable couldn’t possibly be what she imagined when she anticipated bringing God’s son into the world. I wonder how many times she questioned, “This is Your plan God? Seriously?” And we’ve been asking the same question ever since. Yet here’s the paradox: Through the messiness of His life and death, Jesus infused and continues to infuse enormous mercy, love, comfort and joy into a broken world. The long-awaited Messiah arrived in an unexpected way – not wrapped in the glory many anticipated but in ragged cloths. He still arrives in our lives in much the same way - wrapped in adversity. Some of our greatest blessings are born out of suffering, because hardships draw us closer to God as we lean into His presence and provision.
This isn’t the first time our family has faced a Christmas crisis. I think about past Christmas calamities: power outages, plumbing debacles, weather delays, unexpected guests, family dramas, illnesses, even deaths – the list is endless. However, none of them ever stopped Christmas from coming. Just as the Grinch discovered, “it came just the same.” Sometimes the only definitive thing we have control over is how we choose to receive it, or more aptly – Him.
When my mom made her proclamation to cancel the Christmas gathering, my sister Mary Grace (I know, two Mary’s, weird but true) replied, “We are having the dinner because:
1. That’s what Mary Frances would want.
2. We need to be together – especially in light of this news.”
The gift of Christmas is the hope of heaven given to us through the birth of Christ. It is into this hope that we can lean for support and comfort, knowing it is the only thing preventing us from falling into a pit of despair. During times of intense pain, I can’t think of anything I need more than to be reminded that eventually, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4). This is the promise of Christmas.
Christ’s birth began the divine process of cleaning up our messy world. I see glimpses of His ongoing work every day. He is the peace that transcends human understanding and the joy that can overcome any circumstance or Christmas crisis. So, if you find yourself in the middle of one of life’s many challenges, why not choose to “Let His presence bring order to your thoughts, infusing peace into your entire being.”