Christmas is a time for joy, a time for happiness, a time when we celebrate light and life. We celebrate the wonder of the Son of God who became a man in the form of a little baby. We commemorate the birth of the Savior with quaint displays of Mary and Joseph huddling over the babe in the manger along with the Shepherds and the Wise Men. We sing songs about angels singing and “Joy to the World” and gather around glowing Christmas trees with friends and family to open beautifully wrapped gifts and celebrate the joy of this season. But as we celebrate this season of joy, we must see that over that quaint manger scene, over the huddling images of Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds and the Wise Men stands a great and terrible shadow. This shadow is the cross.
And why would I want to speak about a cross, pain, and death on such a joyous day? Because it is in that cross that we find the fullest measure of joy; the perfection of God’s gift to men. And that cross itself, the death of the cross, is the sole reason the Son of God, Jesus Christ became a man and walked this earth.
Why did God become a man? Have you ever thought of that question before? Indeed, it is a great mystery to us all and we have devised some pretty clever illustrations to try and explain it haven’t we? Many have seen the incarnation as a last ditch effort on God’s part to save humanity; something he hasn’t so far seemed to be able to do. Some illustrations would make it seem as if God had exasperated all possible options, that he was at the end of his rope and didn’t know what else to do but become a man and save humanity. Far from it. The incarnation, when God himself became a man that night in Bethlehem, the pain of his death on the cross, his suffering and dying, these were not plan B or C, these were not a last-ditch effort to save mankind, God had not expended all the options leaving him with no other choice… this was the plan from the very beginning, even before the beginning. But why would God choose such a way to save the world? First of all, God became a man so that he might share our suffering.
Christmas is not a bright and happy time for everyone. We sing “all is calm, all is bright,” while around us there in conflict, suffering, pain, evil, wickedness, darkness, and death. As we celebrate warm and happy this morning, hospitals around the world are filled with the sick and dying. Streets are filled with the homeless and hungry. In your own community, perhaps even in this room, families are torn apart by hatred, violence, alcohol, drugs or any number of things. Things are far from “calm and bright.”
But we have a Savior who is not so far above us that he can’t feel our pain and sadness, but who himself was made like us so that he might share in our sufferings, so that he might feel our pain and sorrow and so that he might be tempted in every way that we are yet remain without sin.
Who was it that wept bitter tears at the death of his friend Lazarus? Was it not Jesus himself, the very one who would raise him moments later? Then why did he weep knowing the outcome? He weeps because he feels the pangs of death, he sees the sorrow and the mourning and he witnesses the awful effects of the curse from Genesis 3 when our first parent plunged humanity into sin and death. He weeps for us because he sees the effects of sin and already feels its icy hands in the depths of his hands, feet, and side. He weeps because he knows that in a very short time, it will be him in the tomb.
Hebrews 2:10 presents us with a tremendous paradox. The first portion reminds us that Jesus himself is the creator of all things saying that all things are “for him” and “by him.” This is the Creator God of Genesis 1, the Word that makes all things according to John’s Gospel, and the glue of the entire universe according to Paul’s words to the Colossian church. Yet the sentence quickly shifts. Here we have the creator God, the maker of all that is seen and unseen “made perfect through suffering.” Did we read that right, the Almighty Creator of the universe, the Holy one of Israel whom this author says will bring “many sons to glory,” is suffering?
The holidays are often a time of intense pain and suffering for many people. There are those who suffer from chronic conditions of pain and disease for whom the suffering takes no vacation simply because “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” This causes many to sneer at the very notion of happiness and cheer, even at Christmas. Then there are those who battle severe mental, emotional, and spiritual disease; diseases of the mind, of the heart, and the soul. The effects of the Fall and of sin play no favorites. For some, chemical imbalances and misfires may cause some at any moment to fall into deep depression or anger. For some, the loss of loved ones at this time or any other time of the year casts a shadow on the festivities of Christmas. Hearts are broken, lives are shattered, and there is nothing but confusion, anger, and sadness. For others, a besetting sin has a hold on your soul; unnatural sexual temptations, lust, greed and other forms of sin have a hold on you and cause you to think that if you’re saved, you’re barely saved and if you’re not, there’s no way you can be.
Friends, Jesus came for this. He did not come to a world frolicking about with wassail and jingle bells; he came to a world shattered by sin and ruined by darkness. He came to people so blinded to him that they did not even recognize him, so deaf that they could not hear him, and so… dead.
For this very reason, the eternal Son of God who had always known nothing less than perfect joy in the presence of his Father and the Holy Ghost, left the light and the joy of heaven and became a man so that he might… suffer.
He is not afraid of your filth and shame, he is not astonished nor repulsed by your mental and emotional diseases, he is not put off by your physical ailments. This is the very one who embraces the poor, who heals the blind, and who touches the leper. He knows your suffering.
If you are a believer, continue to trust that he is your Savior and your Redeemer. It wasn’t about you from the beginning and it’s not about you now. He is a perfect Savior and brings perfect salvation. Trust him, he will do it. He who is faithful will complete the work that he has begun in you until the day of Jesus Christ. Trust him, follow him.
If you are not a believer, look to Christ. The old hymn says, “all the fitness he requireth is to know your need of him.” In other words, he requires nothing on your part except that you realize that you have nothing, then come to him for everything.
He is not a stranger to our suffering. He became a man so that he might know it.
Read Part II here.