There’s a certain odd hush that comes upon a town at Christmas Eve.
It’s not that people aren’t still working — those days when everyone got off work for Christmas are gone. But a calm still descends as families 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 who’re truly valuable in your life — your family — are safely together in one place.
But 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 elusive, ephemeral, and fleeting.
For many, Heaven is the next time we’ll know that joyful of a reunion.
A middle-aged couple from out of town visited my church over the Thanksgiving holidays one year. Their son was in city’s jail, and they traveled down to spend a few moments with him. Actually they weren’t really with him; for Thanksgiving they were only able to talk to him through a video monitor.
Though they admitted he’d done wrong, they still wished they could somehow save their son from a punishment he’d brought on himself. As they shared their hearts with me, I was sympathetic and concerned. However, one thing I knew for sure: I had NO IDEA how they really felt. Not a clue.
As I spoke with them that Sunday, the faces of my own kids flashed through my mind. I must admit that as we talked, I whispered a raw prayer under my breath that God willing, I’d never know how they felt.
One Bible passage quoted a lot in the Christmas seasons is a prophecy from Isaiah, quoted in Matthew 1:23. It offered 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 this feels 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 experiential knowledge of what it’s like to be a limited, fragile, vulnerable human being, especially when everything about Him is by definition limitless.
However, with Christ’s Incarnation, God stepped into our painful existence firmly with both feet. Just one of the many profound reasons for Him doing that is this: God now actually does know, from experience, what I’m going through. He does in fact know what it means to be human and fragile.
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… to be hurt deeply”.
Of the three major events in Jesus’ life – birth, crucifixion, and resurrection – each sends a personal message to us…
The message of the cross is that 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’ve been through that too”. To the betrayed, abused and abandoned, who has experienced that more than Jesus?
So the answer to your darkest question this holiday season is “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 chaotic, incomplete world 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 says to you, without a word, “Yes, I know.’’
Allow Him to sit quietly with you now, sensing the pain you endure, experiencing it with you as your own personal Gethsemane.
And ever so gently, He will take 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.
And truly, He does understand.