By Dave Gipson
Pastor, Legacy Church
There’s a certain odd peace that comes upon a town at Christmas Eve.
It’s not that people aren’t still working — those years are gone. But it does seem that a calm descends upon us as families start to gather, and the majority of stores shut off their lights and workers head home.
That’s the scene we all long for, I believe — the gathering of loved ones together. Those rare times when all that is truly valuable to you — your family — is safely together in one place.
The sad part is not everyone experiences that at Christmas. Some of those we love are far away, and some are gone from this world for good. This is the bittersweet aspect of the holidays — a longing for perfect unity with loved ones that is illusive, ephemeral, and fleeting. For many, Heaven is the next time we’ll know that joyful of a reunion.
Maybe that’s what makes it all the more precious — the knowledge that it all can go away at anytime. That’s what a father and mother were facing who visited my church over the Thanksgiving holidays. Their son is in jail here, and they traveled down from up North to spend a few moments with him. Actually they weren’t really with him; they were only able to talk to him through a video monitor.
I do ministry to inmates in our jail, so the parents had been in contact with me.
They want me to watch over their son from a distance, so they call often to see if I’ve checked on him recently. There is so little I can do, and I feel their agony. Though they admit he has done wrong, they wish they could somehow save their son from a punishment he has brought on himself.
When people challenge my belief in God, they often lob angry questions at me to challenge my faith. Most of the time, their questions are predictable and easily answered. But there is one question that, before the baby Jesus was born at Christmas, would have seemed a valid challenge to God even this pastor couldn’t have answered. It is a question that, at its heart, reveals to us the greatest message of Christmas.
The prophecy from Isaiah, quoted in Matthew 1:23, included a name for the son born of a virgin: Immanuel, meaning God with us. This name was really God’s answer to a question that many of His followers have no doubt asked as a challenge to Him when they faced unbearable circumstances:
God, you really don’t know what it’s like, do you?
I know some writers more theological than I would remind me there’s nothing God doesn’t know. However, while He technically must know everything, He really couldn’t say to us He had experienced what it is like to be limited, fragile, vulnerable humans, at least, not until the first Christmas.
With Christ’s Incarnation, God stepped into our painful existence firmly with both feet. His reasons for doing this were many and profound, the most important being to ultimately redeem His sons and daughters from a punishment we had brought on ourselves. But the most significant reason to me personally is this: God now actually does know what I’m going through.
By coming to earth in the most vulnerable form possible, God is saying to us, I get it.
I do know what it’s like to be human, and to be hurt deeply.
The message of the cross is everything you ever fouled up — it’s over and done, paid in full!
The message of the resurrection is no worries. Death, the most devastating enemy you’ve got, is already defeated. So live life with confidence, a recklessly holy abandon.
And the message of Christmas to all of us is this: Where you are now, I’ve already been. Not only that — I am with you there now as well!
So to those parents longing for the safe return of their wayward son, God says, I know exactly how you feel. To those alone, separated from family and friends this Christmas, God says, I know what that feels like too. To the betrayed, abused and abandoned, He has been where you are now. And yes, He knows exactly how you feel tonight.
As you read this, I believe He has slipped into the room beside you. The Christ of Christmas is now the Risen Christ of the cross, and He has come down into the midst of your heartbreak today. As He sits beside you, He doesn’t speak. Instead He looks directly into your eyes with that straightforward look of one who is part of the Fellowship of the Brokenhearted. That look that says to you, without a word, “Yes, I know.’’
He sits quietly with you now, sensing the pain you endure, understanding it completely.
And ever so gently, He takes His hand, the hand with that wound so pronounced at its center, and He gently slips it into yours.
This is the message of Christmas: God is with us.