This morning I found out that one of my dearest friends and mentor is in the hospital in critical condition. She, like many, has gone through the war against cancer. I have watched her struggle through chemo, a bone marrow transplant, and the painful complications that have followed in their wake. More than the physical pain, I’ve watched a family walk the path of agony that comes from seeing someone you love suffer. The fear and uncertainty of constantly wondering why things aren’t getting better is suffocating. The most dreaded question of all constantly haunts you, what if things never get better?
Tonight it is hard for me to think about being merry at Christmas. The agony of loss seems too close at hand. Recognizing that my fearful “what ifs” have turned into reality for so many makes the thought of opening presents and going to parties seem shallow and pointless. Losing a loved one, or in my case even the thought of it, is too much to bear.
The agony of loss and the merrymaking of Christmas seem in direct opposition to one another. Joy and loss don’t seem to go hand in hand. Or are they? I tend to forget that what I celebrate during the holiday season is a story of a greater loss and agony than I am capable of comprehending. At Christmas we talk about baby Jesus “away in a manger.” He’s cute and cuddly with a baby lamb or two nearby. We tend to forget that the baby in a feeding trough was the Creator and King of the universe. We forget he accomplished his purpose for living through his death. What suffering must he have experienced in his life and death, what pain? Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah’s description of the Child in a manger resounded with the anthem of agonizing loss; “Despised, rejected, man of sorrow, acquainted with grief, sorrow, stricken, afflicted, smitten by God, wounded, crushed, oppressed, afflicted, anguish of soul, death.”
Jesus knows the agony of loss. He knows what it is to cry out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If the story ended here Christmas would be the greatest tragedy and not a time to celebrate. If all the God-Man can do is sympathize with my suffering then what hope is there? But this is not the end of the story. There is a reason an angel brought “good news of great joy” at the birth of Jesus. There is a reason to hope. The hope and celebration of Christmas is realized on a cross years later when Jesus would die for the sins of the world; my sin, your sin. The hope and celebration of the cross is in the empty tomb three days later. Jesus suffered and conquered the agony of loss so that you and I could know comfort and joy. Through his great suffering we can know great gain. His loss and death did not end in agony but in the victory of life. He offers us that same victory.
Tonight I sit wondering if things will get better. As I pray for my dear friend and her family, overwhelmed with the grief of “what if” and loss of so many, I hear through my tears the joyful message of Christmas; and I’m filled with hope.
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people… Jesus has risen, as he said.