So often Christians tell each other — and the world — that we can’t forget the real “reason for the season,” that Christmas is about Christ, not commercialism. And amidst our material abundance and compressed holiday schedules, we try our very best to be joyful — we really do — as we add Jesus to all our holiday activities.
But sometimes it seems kind of forced, doesn’t it? After all, it’s difficult to find joy in the season when we feel we have to make another frenzied jaunt to Wal-Mart, or a friend turns up very sick.
The problem with Christmas these days isn’t with Jesus; it’s with us. More precisely, it’s with our “great expectations,” to borrow a phrase from Charles Dickens.
Michael Knox Beran talks about the modern “dream of a painless world.” Beran calls it the “great illusion” of modern liberalism, “which regards suffering not as something inherent in the very nature of life but as an anomaly to be eradicated by reason and science and social legislation.”
Beran, who is a contributing editor for City Journal, quotes President Kennedy: “[M]an holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty.” Whew! This utopian delusion, Beran says, persists because “it appeals to our inner egotism and self-conceit. When something painful happens,” Beran adds, “one’s instinct is to be outraged, as though the universe had made a mistake. … But there has been no mistake; we have been created to know joy, and also to know misery.”
You see, the utopian vision neglects the fact that this is a fallen world. And a fallen world is filled with human suffering. And that’s something we don’t want to think about, especially at Christmastime.
But you can’t understand Christmas if you ignore human suffering. Think of the words of some of the carols we sing: “the hopes and fears of all the years,” or “O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here.” Think of the pain of Joseph, who first thought that Mary had been unfaithful to him. Think of all the mothers in and around Bethlehem, who saw their young children slaughtered. Think about the words of old Simeon to Mary: “A sword will pierce through your own soul.”
Then think about what this Baby came to do — to die on the cross for us. Sure, Christmas is about joy, but it is a joy that is reached through and never loses sight of human suffering in a fallen world. As we sing that glorious carol “Joy to the World” we proclaim that Christ “comes to make his blessings flow/Far as the curse [that is, human suffering] is found.”
There is joy in Christmas, even in the midst of the curse.
You see, Christmas joy is for those who hurt. Those who dwell in darkness, Scripture says, will see a great light. As Jesus said, it is the hungry who will be filled, those who mourn who will rejoice. Do you hurt? Then rejoice in the Baby who has redeemed your sin and suffering. Are you in darkness? Look to His light and rejoice in it.
Suffering is the reason for the season. Christ came, amid suffering, because we suffer, to suffer. But our joy lies in the fact that Christ’s redemptive suffering points to an eternal weight of glory. And that glory, the glory of Immanuel and His Kingdom, is what I talk about in detail today on our Two-Minute Warning, which I’d love for you to watch at ColsonCenter.org.
May God bless you and yours this Christmas.