Christmas, if we are being honest, can be both a time of joy and longing. Advent reminds us that, like the Jews awaiting their savior, we are in the time between. A great hope is before us, but it is not here yet. We know and believe in the promise of unending, joyful life, but life presently is often painful and disjointed. Light is coming and breaking through, but darkness surrounds us.
The darkness in the world can get to me sometimes. This past fall in our student ministry, we went through a series titled “Through the Darkness.” Over a month, we taught our students about the importance of being open with our brokenness in life with others and God so we can find healing in Him. Our hope and prayer were that our students would be moved to a place of vulnerability so we could speak the truth of God’s Gospel of grace and love into their lives and see them begin to experience His healing.
God is faithful, and He answered our prayer. During the weeks that followed, we witnessed several students open up about the darkness they were experiencing. Some were wrestling with broken identities and fractured self-worth. Others felt trapped in sin and ruined by shame. Others carried the burdens of hurting homes. By God’s grace, we saw His love and healing move through these conversations.
But they were heavy; they were hard; they were dark. I must confess while I consider myself truly fortunate to take part in God’s healing work, entering into the darkness of others can leave me feeling broken myself. Even though I firmly know God is present and active in our lives, hearing story after story of brokenness can make this hard to feel true.
At the end of this time, I found myself in Memphis for a conference with our ministry team, wanting peace and rest. This hope shattered when one of my closest friends, hours away from home, received the news her aunt had been life-flighted to a hospital unconscious. She had already lost two close family members traumatically this year. Holding back the tears in her eyes, she said to me, “I’m just tired of people dying.”
In that moment, God felt gone. And so I found myself walking around my neighborhood the next night when I got home, praying to Him, wanting to feel His assurance that everything would be okay. But all of the pain I had seen and felt blurred my mind. Feeling restless, defeated, and hopeless, with my friend’s words ringing loudly in my head, I exasperatedly cried out, “Do you even know what it’s like to feel that? Do you know what it’s like to be tired of hurting? Do you know what it’s like to be tired of people dying?”
As I stood there in the dark night, a voice gently and softly broke the silence, leading me to raise my head and look up. Filled with empathy and heartbreak, it whispered, “Yes.”
It was a simple word. But it was full of power. In that moment, I was overwhelmed by the sense that I was not alone in my aching. Neither was anyone else. God was there in it too. He was feeling it more deeply than all of us. And He had been feeling it a lot longer.
He felt it thousands of years ago when man first became a slave to death. He felt it as He watched His people, His most beloved creation, sin and die for centuries. Finally, He could bear it no more and so He came to earth Himself to save us.
This is the message of Christmas. God cares about us. He hurts with us. Like us, He is tired of the longing, separation, and death. He also yearns for the day when we will be together. He is coming. He will put all of our pain and death under His feet. We will be restored. Our hope will become reality.
Christmas, then, speaks not only of past events but also ones to come. In Luke 21, Jesus instructs His disciples to look up and raise their heads at His second coming because their redemption is drawing near. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this speaks to us today at Christmas time. Even in the midst of a dark world, Christmas calls us to look to our future hope. It is a call to persevere and trust in the God who loves us. He writes:
“Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth. Look up to these words, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away. Look up, you who, burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look up, your redemption is drawing near. Something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment. Wait, and something quite new will break over you: God will come.”
Associate Director of Student Ministries