A Blue Christmas
(Preached December 25, 2011 – FBC Nitro, WV)
Scripture: Isaiah 53:1-6
Well, the greatly anticipated day has finally arrived. For the past four weeks we have been talking about advent. Advent means an arriving or an appearing. We hope for it, we anticipate it. When each Christmas arrives, it is often different than we thought it would We may have idealized it in some way and then find ourselves a little disappointed with the reality. It happens now, and it happened on the first Christmas over 2000 years ago. The people of Israel had been waiting for the coming Messiah. They were longing for Him, eager for Him to arrive. Then when did emerge on the scene, many of them missed him because His coming was so different than what they had in mind. They expected a warrior, someone with a lot of flair and military might who would enable them to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression — it didn’t happen. God came to them in obscurity, being born to a man and woman who were migrants, then refugees. His first cries as an infant echoed off the wall of the back of a stone cave. There was no palace, no earthly fanfare, just a humble woman and man gathered around a manger. It wasn’t the coming we expected, but it was the coming we needed.
In the same way today, God often comes to us not in the way want at Christmas, but in the way we need. For many people, Christmas Day is not a happy time but a depressing time. It is time of sorrow, a time of grief. We think of a parent who is no longer present, a house full of children that is now empty, a spouse who is no longer sitting across the room from us. Our hearts sink, we dread the day, and we wish the first of the year would arrive so everyone would not be so family-focused. If we are in this mindset this morning, or we have family members or friends who are, then these words from Isaiah 53 will be of great help to us. In these words we find three truths to embrace, to give us strength in the midst of what is a difficult time of year.
Because of Christmas, God Meets Us in our Sorrows
First of all, because of Christmas, God meets us in our sorrows. v. 3 says of Jesus, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;…” The word translated “acquainted” here is yada, which means basically “to know.” Here in this passage it means to know very well, to know firsthand. Christmas is not just something God sent upon us to make us miserable. Because of Christmas, God meets us in the midst of our hardship and sorrow. Jesus wasn’t just taking notes on sorrow when He walked on the earth – he got to know it very well. He experienced the pain of suffering, of loss, of grief. He experienced all the emotions that we feel, the exhilaration of the good and the depths of the bad, all without sin. He knows how you feel extremely well.
There is no shadow of death through which we walk that Jesus has not already walked before us. He knows the way, He is now our guide. With Christmas now we have not the world’s picture of a helpless baby who really has no significance to our lives. What we get instead is a Lord and a Master who is well acquainted with our grief and our hardship. He knows sorrow, He knows suffering, He knows loss better than anyone else. Because of Christmas, He can help us in our time of need.
The story of Lazarus in John 11 illustrates this truth well. In v. 4 he hears of Lazarus’ sickness, and tells his disciples it will not be fatal. In the face of oncoming sorrow, Jesus offers words of hope. The same Lord that gave his disciples hope then gives you hope today. Jesus says to you, “This thing isn’t going to end the way you think. I will be glorified, God will be glorified, and I will take very good care of you.” Everything looks good in v. 4, but in v. 6 Jesus does something unexpected. It says, “So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”
His delay allows suffering to occur, and the disciples can’t understand it. Lazarus’ family can’t understand it. If Jesus had been on top of things, this whole loss wouldn’t have occurred. A painful situation could have been avoided if Jesus was just doing what He was supposed to do, what it appeared He said He would do. Finally in v. 15 Jesus acts. “Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas responds in v. 16, …“Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas was always one to be prepared for the worst.
He knew they were headed toward greater pain and hardship, and wanted everyone to be ready. Even though he doubted, here Thomas is right. When we follow Jesus it often hurts, there is sacrifice involved. Friends, when we follow Jesus, He does not always call us to things that are safe, easy or without pain.
We look for a Lord who will say to us, “I’m going to chart a course for you that will always be upward and onward, blessing upon blessing. The world will be yours!” Instead, we encounter a Lord who has us thinking, “Why are You leading me there? What are You allowing this circumstance in my life? Why right now, of all times? I just don’t get. There is danger involved here, there is suffering, there is hardship, I just don’t know if I can handle it.”
When Jesus meets Mary, Larazus’ sister in v. 32, she responds as we would likely respond. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Regardless of his perceived bad timing, Jesus arrived and met Mary in her sorrow. He meets us in our sorrow as well.
Because of Christmas, God Understands Us in Our Sorrows
Then, because of Christmas, God understands us in our sorrows. John 11:33 says, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” Jesus here is deeply moved, not just moved. We need to understand that His understanding is not just sympathy. He is understanding to the point of being angry with the whole situation of sickness, death, parting and pain. The Son of God doesn’t just feel for us – His love goes deeper. He cares so much for us, and feels our pain so deeply, that He is agitated enough to do something about it. In John 11:39-44, Jesus calls Lazarus forth. In a similar way Jesus calls us forth from our sorrow and our grief, giving us all we need for life now and the promise of life eternal. Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” He knows what our situation is like, and He is able and willing to pull us from it and to lead us through it – all we must do is trust Him. The important thing for us, the understanding He shows and the help He gives isn’t based on us – it is based on Him.
When I was about five years old, I first really understood what these words mean:
He sees you when you’re sleeping,
He knows if you’re awake,
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness’ sake!
Until that time, I had lived in this childhood bliss, in which Christmas was the best day of the year. I had always believed that the gifts at Christmas were there because Christmas always came with gifts. You could count on them. Around age 5 however, I painfully understood that if I wanted any gifts at Christmas, I had to be good. It was all riding on me. There was this all-seeing, all-knowing Santa, and if there was going to be any gifts, I had better shape up. But then I thought, How good is “good”? Can a person be “pretty good”? What about the time I got angry and bashed my toy guitar against my Dad’s car in a fit of rage? Would Santa remember that one? Sure he would – he is Santa!
I grew up a little more and started through elementary school. Around age 9, I learned that it wasn’t just about being good enough, it was about being smart enough. We had a reading program for all the students in the class. Here’s the gist of what I remember: there was a giant box of color-coded cards on the side of the classroom. You went and got one of the cards in the front of the box, read what was on it, and then answered questions about what you’d read. If you got most of the answers right, you moved up to the next highest color. Moving up in colors was the goal – if I was in the lower colors, I felt like an idiot. If I was in the higher colors however, I was smart. To get the glory of the higher colors, I had to hustle.
I had to be good enough and smart enough.
When I was 13 I rededicated my life to Jesus and started back to church. I also started really reading my Bible, and began learning that to receive the best things from God, I didn’t have to be good enough or smart enough. Getting the best things from God was based on my trusting what Jesus had done for me by dying on the cross and coming back to life three days later. So the help we get from God isn’t based on how good we are or how smart we are or anything else about us, it is based on Him. Because of Christmas, God understands us in our sorrows.
Because of Christmas, God Gives Us Hope in Our Sorrows
Then, because of Christmas, God gives us hope in our sorrows. We begin anticipating what God has in store for us. We begin anticipating what God has in store for us in this life. Even though our Christmas holiday may be rough, God has better things on the horizon. Jesus tells us in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 says, “…as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”
Then not only does God have better things in store in this life, He also has better things in store in the life to come. Paul said in Philippians 1:21-23, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” One day we will be reunited with spouses, with parents and with other loved ones who have gone ahead of us to be with Christ. We will be reunited with them then because of Christmas.
When we are in the presence of Christ in the life to come, we will have perfect health. There will be no wheelchairs, no canes, no stooped backs, no arthritis. We have the hope of this glorious existence because of Christmas. Listen to what Paul says in Philippians 3:20-21, “…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
Are you hurting this Christmas Day? Do you know someone who is? Because of Christmas, God meets us in our sorrows, he understands us in them, and he gives us hope in them.