“After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.” Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A cry was heard in Ramah— weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.””
Christmas cards are my favorite. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe these cards awaken the nostalgia of Christmas, the “best time of the year,” the snow-filled days complete with frolicking children, trees glistening and such. On Christmas cards, everyone smiles. Day after day, as I look at pictures of friends, it’s almost as if they paint a world different from the one I see. Maybe a place exists where everyone smiles and sings “Kumbaya.”
We love that, don’t we? I’m talking about nostalgia and reminiscing. Especially this time of year.
We love that Christmas story, the one we create in our minds, the one void of pain, struggle, or chaos. Jesus has been commercialized, thrown beside Santa Claus.
Yes, even Christians love a joyous Jesus, void of struggle and brokenness. This Jesus sells. But, the commercialized Christmas story isn’t the Advent story. We must open our eyes to the real picture of Jesus, the one with a virgin mother struggling through labor, a confused husband unsure how to care for his expecting wife, and a heinous king so thirsty for power he orders a mass execution of children.
We need this Jesus because death doesn’t take December off.
The Christmas cards and ABC Family movies tell us pain and struggles hibernate during the holidays. But we know this isn’t true. While children frolic in the snow, someone hears the words “you have cancer.” Someone else receives a phone call with the words “your child has died.”
The Advent message isn’t that everything is ok and everyone smiles. The coming of Jesus says that “in this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.” And, you might think, “Those are strong words, Jesus. But you don’t understand the pain in my heart. I have six months to live. I will open presents without my child this year. My spouse left me for someone else.”
And as long as Jesus is included in our nostalgia, you would be right. Commercialized Jesus knows nothing of our struggles.
Maybe you’re frustrated at this point, ready to label me a “Bah Humbug.” Your Christmas is awesome, after all. And I’m ruining it.
But trust me. At some point, the real Christmas story will be your reality, and a commercialized Jesus will mean very little to you. You will want a Jesus who understands your pain. Better than that, you will need a Jesus who feels your pain.
And that’s why Advent matters. It reveals who God really is. Not only does he understand your pain. He enters into it. He feels your pain too.
Ann Voskamp seems appropriate here: “God has a heart…and it hurts. It hurts with what hurts us. His heart hurts not just with a few drops of ache, not just with a slow drip of sadness – the whole expanse of His heart fills, swells, weighs dark with this storm of pain.”
This little commercialized Jesus sells, but he doesn’t save. He invigorates our nostalgia, but he doesn’t empathize with our pain.
Here’s the big close. Drum roll, please…
Until we live into our emotions, especially the bad ones, we won’t experience the good ones. Jesus needed his rear-end wiped as a baby. He burped, maybe even farted a time or two. If that’s crude, I’m sorry. Jesus was two-years-old at one point. I have a daughter this age. They fart and poop a lot.
Jesus also wept. When his heart floods with emotion at Lazarus’s death, he doesn’t suppress the tears.
“You gotta act like a man, Jesus. Bury those tears.”
Stop it. This real-men-don’t-cry construct needs to die. It’s gross, unhealthy, and the opposite of Christ.
Jesus expressed emotions because was fully human. He didn’t suppress or numb.
The world says negative emotions are evil. God says negative emotions pave the way to full life. The world says expressing emotions reveals weakness. God says that’s right. But through weakness, God makes us strong.
The more fully we live into our humanity, with all its sadness, vulnerability, loneliness, and pain, the more fully we experience God.
Take this as your pass to live fully into your humanity today. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to laugh, laugh. If you need to express anger, do so. Dance today if you so choose. You simply have three rules: be vulnerable, be honest, be human.
Father, forgive me for suppressing or concealing my emotions. Give me the strength and courage to be fully human. When I imagine the Christmas story, let me never forget that Jesus entered into the world’s suffering and empathizes with my struggles. Thank you. Amen.