Christmas cards are my favorite. Why, I’m not sure. Maybe they awaken the nostalgia of Christmas, the “best time of the year,” the snow-filled days complete with frolicking children, trees glistening and such. Day after day, as I look at pictures of friends, it’s almost as if they paint a world different from the one I see. Before long, I start to believe a place exists where everyone smiles and sings “Kumbaya.” So, closing my eyes, I begin to imagine this place. For a few moments, I laugh with friends and have a jolly good time. Then, a huge crash destroys my dream. Someone left the fridge open.
We love to close our eyes and journey to distant lands, places where everyone wears jorts (blue jean shorts) and no one cares. But the dreams are short-lived. If the fridge doesn’t “square us up,” something else will. Let’s be honest, the real Christmas story isn’t exactly suitable for children. Chaos is everywhere. Pain clears the path for Jesus’s arrival with the massacre of children on the horizon.
THE REALITY OF COMMERCIALIZED JESUS
Today’s Christmas story is largely without pain, struggle, or disorder. Jesus has been commercialized, thrown beside Santa Claus, and, unfortunately, Christians are primarily responsible for arranging the mess. How many Christmas plays highlight the pains of childbirth, the stench of animal feces, or a madman’s terrorist attack on babies? Don’t Google it. The answer is zero.
Yes, even Christians love a joyous Jesus, void of struggles and brokenness. This Jesus sells. But this Jesus is a facade. We must open our eyes, stop licking the candy canes, and put down the Christmas cards. We need the real picture of Jesus, the one with a virgin mother struggling through labor, a confused husband unsure how to care for his expecting wife, and a heinous king so thirsty for power he orders the execution of children.
THE PROBLEM WITH COMMERCIALIZED JESUS
We need this Jesus because death doesn’t take December off. The Christmas cards and ABC Family movies tell us pain and struggles hibernate during the holidays. But we know this isn’t true. Tragedy doesn’t care about our nostalgic portrait of Christmas. While children frolic in the snow, someone hears the words “you have cancer,” and another drops the phone in disbelief as someone says, “Your child is dead.”
Christmas doesn’t say everything is ok and everyone should smile. No, not at all. Christmas echoes the words of our Savior. “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.”
At this point, you might think, “Those are strong words, Jesus. But you don’t understand the pain in my heart. I have six months to live. I will open presents without my child this year. My husband left me for another woman.”
To this, Jesus doesn’t say a word. He simply points to the manger. But, when Jesus points to the manger, we see a commercialized nativity scene, complete with smiling actors and a “dolled up” baby neatly placed in a straw bed from Lowes. Maybe some nativity scenes include live animals, but doubtless you find one resembling the stable in Bethlehem. If you do, post it on Instagram using #realpooandstench, I would like to see it. Maybe I’ll give you a prize or something.
A commercialized manger with a cute, pudgy Jesus knows nothing of our struggles. This Jesus couldn’t possibly understand the immense pain in our heart.
WHY YOU SHOULD ABANDON COMMERCIALIZED JESUS
Maybe you’re frustrated at this point, ready to label me a “Bah Humbug.” Your Christmas is awesome, after all, and I’m ruining it.
Trust me. At some point, if you live long enough, the real Christmas story will be your reality. Your story might be a holiday season without someone you love or opening presents unaware how many more sands are in your life’s hourglass. When you experience Christmas this way, commercialized Jesus will mean very little to you. Instead, you will need a Jesus who understands your pain. More than that, you will need a Jesus who feels your pain.
“GOD WITH US” MEANS JESUS FEELS YOUR PAIN
“So the LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.” Genesis 6:6
This might be the greatest message of Christmas. Jesus not only understands your pain. He FEELS it.
Soak in these words from Ann Voskamp. “God has a heart…and it hurts. It hurts with what hurts us. His heart hurts not just with a few drops of ache, not just with a slow drip of sadness – the whole expanse of His heart fills, swells, weighs dark with this storm of pain.”
Christmas is your challenge to live into your humanity, every ounce of it. When suffering becomes your story, don’t close your eyes and dream of a white Christmas or a land without cancer, loss, or death. When vulnerability knocks, don’t hide in a closet. Answer, and let it in. Don’t bury our pain. Expose it. The Christmas story gives you permission to do so.
This little commercialized Jesus sells, but he doesn’t save. He fuels our nostalgia, but he doesn’t empathize with our pain.
JESUS WAS FULLY HUMAN. YOU SHOULD BE TOO.
Here’s the big close. Drum roll, please. Now stop, you probably look awkward.
Until we live into the bad emotions, we won’t experience the good ones. Jesus needed his rear-end wiped as a baby. He burped, maybe even farted a time or two. If that’s crude, I’m sorry. Jesus was two-years-old at one point. I have two boys this age, and many more have roamed around my house. They all basically do the same thing.
Jesus also wept. When his heart flooded with emotion over Lazarus’s death, he didn’t suppress the tears. “You gotta act like a man, Jesus. Bury those tears.” No. He allowed them to flow. When Jesus was overcome with anger at the sight of Pharisees degrading the temple, he didn’t run away to avoid an outburst. He flipped over tables. Do you see? Jesus expressed all of his humanity, and this opened the door to his unending joy and peace.
If you run away to a “Winter Wonderland” to avoid pain, you also run away from joy, peace, and love. You can’t selectively suppress emotions. The world says negative emotions are…well…bad. God says negative emotions pave the way to a life unimagined. The world says bad emotions reveal weakness. God says that’s right. But through our weakness we are strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
The more fully we live into our humanity, with all its sadness, vulnerability, loneliness, and pain, the more fully we reveal God’s glory. While living in the gap between “here and there,” we must see the real Christmas story. The fullness of God arrives between suffering and death. But, through death, Jesus gives us life.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!