What’s your favorite Christmas verse in the Bible? Probably not Job 3:24-26: “For sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.”
What does a suffering man have to do with the season of joy and giving? Some would say nothing, yet there’s a dark side to Christmas that many of us don’t want to acknowledge. I knew a man who dreaded the coming of Christmas because of the painful childhood memories it dredged up. Some of you stood by a fresh grave this year, and you are facing your first Christmas without a loved one. I remember the first Christmas without my dad: it was strange, sad, uncomfortably different. Many divorced parents will spend their childless holidays in tears and loneliness. Some of you have taken a financial hit, and December turns the screws on an already-suffering checkbook.
Perhaps you feel like Job right now. After rustlers made off with his livestock and a cyclone blew away his children, Job hunkered in the dust and wondered where God was. Agonizingly he asked, “Why does the Lord give life and then give troubles? Life is a gift and yet not a gift. Death seems sweeter.”
Long ago God gave a gift to the world, yet the world rejected the gift. John’s Gospel puts it this way, “He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him” (Jn 1:10-11 NET Bible).
The gift first appeared in swaddling cloths and was laid in a manger. Thirty-three years later, this inexpressible gift hung on God’s Christmas Tree, a Cross. Jesus was the Ultimate “Man of Sorrows.” His own people did not accept Him, and still to this day His name is a curse word for some, a laughingstock to others, and simply ignored by multitudes more.
Jesus, like Job, did not enjoy adversity. Yet unlike Job, Jesus accepted the cup of suffering as the will of His Father, knowing that His death would bring salvation to the world. Very few people welcome trials and tribulations as gifts. In the words of a sufferer named Carole Bonno, “People say I am different now. I am. People say I am helping others who have had a similar loss. I am. But why couldn’t I have learned these things by just reading a book?” Adversity is the present that no one wants under the Christmas tree – yet sometimes it comes, anyway.
Suffering people often ask, “Why?” Why is God dragging me through this? Why doesn’t God end suffering? Why does God seem so far-off and distant? Job asked similar questions. So have I. So have you.
The Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two characters. One translates to “danger” and the other roughly means a crucial point. An ordeal is a pivot to bitterness or betterment. The path we choose can take us further from God – or right to His very bosom. I believe it was Robert Schuller who said that we can become “bitter or better,” and that God can “turn our scars into stars.” That idea sounds like bumper-sticker theology, but actually is profound truth. The “gift” of adversity is packaged in pain and grief, but some people just sit there and perpetually lament the ugly wrapping. “It’s not what I wanted!” they cry. Yet for those who bother to tear through the paper, to stubbornly dig beneath the hurt and suffering, they will find the mysterious gift of God’s Presence and Power. Years ago, my wife and I walked through a personal crisis, a health challenge. In that agonizing period, I was driven to God in a way that I have not experienced in sunshine and ease. Oh, I love it when my life is on the upswing, but tough days drive me to spiritual depths that don’t happen at any other time.
What do you want this Christmas? None of us ask for the gift of hardship, but some of us will get it, anyway. Question is, what will you do with it? Do you see trials as a bane – or a hidden blessing? There’s a story in the book, Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul. A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. It was the custom in that affluent neighborhood for the parents to give the graduate a car. Bill and his father had spent months looking at cars, and they found the perfect one a week before graduation. Bill was certain that the car would be in their driveway on graduation night.
Imagine his disappointment when, on the eve of his graduation, Bill’s father handed him a gift-wrapped Bible! Bill was so angry, he flung the Bible down and stormed out of the house. He and his father never saw each other again. It was the news of his father’s death that brought him home again.
As he sat one night, going through his father’s possessions, he came across the Bible that his father had given him years before. He brushed away the dust and opened it to find a cashier’s check, dated the day of his graduation, in the exact amount of the car they had chosen.
Sometimes a gift doesn’t seem very pleasant, does it? Yet, if you will take the time and patience to open it, even through tears and groaning, you will find something even more precious than a check. After working through his ordeal, Job received a double restoration of everything he lost. Jesus discovered the power of resurrection on the other side of the Cross.
I wonder what you will find under the tree this Christmas — special delivery from God?