This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. 1 John 4:9
The first Christmas after my father died our family headed to Disney World. His death was two months prior and my mother couldn’t stand the thought of trying to have a “normal” Christmas without him. We packed the car and drove from Virginia to Florida in the middle of the night. Despite the beautiful and sparkly Christmas lights, my insides remained desperate and dreary. I wanted to enjoy Christmas but even the happiest place on earth didn’t erase the heartache and emptiness we felt without my dad. I couldn’t wait for Christmas to be over as the holiday was just another reminder that he was gone.
My teen-self didn’t know it then, but what I most longed for that Christmas was the person and presence of Christ. I needed to know that my family mattered to God. I needed to know that God was for us, not against us. I needed to know that I was still loved. Simply put, I needed to know through personal experience of the everlasting and comforting love of Immanuel, “God with us.”
Whether it is because the death of a loved one or a wish unfulfilled, the holiday season can be nothing more than a lonely reminder that life is not what we hoped it would be.
“God with us.” That is the whole story of Christmas. God didn’t simply make an appearance or send good wishes, He walked the earth, He suffered, and He died for us. And even though this happened hundreds of years ago, the presence and person of Jesus is still real and with us here and now. He patiently waits for us to see Him, to come to know Him, and to ultimately adore Him.
It has been many years since my father’s death and the sting can still burn. That’s the thing about grief: it hits you like an overwhelming wave, unexpectedly and without warning, you are suddenly and relentlessly knocked to your knees left gasping for air. Yes, there are times when I think about my dad with a peaceful comfort. But there are still other times of deep sadness, pain, and even guilt thinking about what I should or shouldn’t have said. If you have lost someone close to you, maybe you feel those things too.
Experiencing death apart from Jesus leaves us desperate, bitter, and alone. It’s a hard tomb to climb out of ourselves. I know because I’ve tried. While the enemy has come to “steal and kill and destroy; [Jesus has] come that [we] may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). This thief wants us to remain isolated, guilt-ridden, and ashamed but God sent Jesus into the world to show us a new and better way.
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:2-3). Those last words are powerful: “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
This was a new way of thinking. Death, the inability to conceive a child, or even the inability to conceive a son – these were things 1st century culture said should bring shame. These things meant you were cursed by God. These things meant you were surely a sinner and not living a righteous life. These things often left those experiencing them isolated and alone. In many ways this is still true today even in (perhaps especially in) Christian circles- painful situations leave us feeling crushed, judged, and alone.
But Jesus’ arrival on earth was the beginning of good news. He flipped earthly wisdom upside down. God, through His Son, was teaching His people a new way to look at the world and to see each other. Experiencing painful situations doesn’t mean that God does not love us. It means that we can depend on Him all the more. It means that God is working in ways we cannot yet see. In our weakness, we can look to Him for strength. The incarnation of Jesus – God in the flesh – was not just something that happened a long time ago. He wants it to be our treasured reality for today.
“Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you.
If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.”
(Psalm 34:17-18 MSG)
- I recently read, “I can’t remember the last time I prayed for an hour, but I can’t remember the last hour I didn’t pray.” I love this because it reflects the invitation that Jesus gives us to come to Him with all things. We can pour out our secret thoughts to Him, cry to Him, and talk to Him about it all. What do you need to bring to God this morning?
Lord, thank you that I can come to You in my grief, my weakness, and through my tears. Thank you also that I can come to You with great joy and small pleasures. Thank you that in Your presence I find relief, love, and truth. Thank you for loving me despite myself. In Jesus name, Amen.
PC3 writer Gina Fimbel wrote today’s devotional.