Christmas – Good News for Those Who Struggle
- Ryan Patrick Murphy, PhD
- Director of Educational Programs, DAI
- December 2019
Let me share with you an unexpected way to have a joyful Christmas. Granted, Christmas may be a time of joyful celebration for you already. But I think there is room for more – especially for those of us who find the season to be less than joyful at times.
One cause of a lack of joy in the holidays is simply the stress of the season. We live in a time of enormous social pressure to do more and be more than we were designed to do. Another, more insidious cause, is an over-emphasis on cheerfulness to the disregard of the struggles which fill up much of our lives. This requirement to be happy can feel like a shallow attempt to simply paper-over the fundamental brokenness that we see in ourselves and others. It feels false and can sap the joy from Christmas.
Ironically, one way to recapture the joy of Christmas is to embrace our struggles, not shun them. When we allow ourselves to accept the fact that life is often a struggle, then we are set free from having to maintain a facade the does little to nourish our souls. We can toss aside the popular myths that Christmas is about joy and having the perfect family experience. In their place, we can embrace the reality that Christmas is really about the fundamental dysfunction of humanity, our personal and corporate brokenness, and the ways we have inflicted it on the whole created order.
These struggles are what Christmas is all about. You see, God, in his incredible love for each of us, has seen our brokenness and took the surprise initiative to reclaim his project of creation by the radical act of becoming part of it. His strategy of overcoming evil and alleviating our suffering is by absorbing it into himself. The incarnation is the divinely elegant solution by which God begins the process of reclaiming his darkened creation by becoming a member of it.
While this is undoubtedly good news for us, we ought to remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s assertion that we can only truly savor the joy of the Christian message if we are also willing to acknowledge and accept the reality of our sin and its effects on the world. Only this honesty allows us to embrace Christmas with a deep sense of gratitude, and without it, the Good News can lose its depth of meaning and even seem trite or frivolous.
But if we look honestly at ourselves and our condition, the Christmas story can fill us with a deep and lasting joy because it heralds God’s redemption of His creation. That manger in Bethlehem becomes a beacon of salvation instead of a piece of holiday kitsch in the living room. The radicalness of our sin is overwhelmed by the radical solution of an incarnate God – this is the message of Christmas. Our joy comes not only from receiving the news of our redemption through a small child’s birth, but also reveling in the incredible love of a God who would do such a thing for us.
In light of this, let us by all means be joyful this holiday season, remembering the desperateness of our need and the incomprehensible beauty of God’s solution. This truth will bring us into a deeper and more profound joy than any effort at holiday cheer will ever achieve.