Thursday, December 20, 2012

Darkness and Light

Our ears almost ache for something to move us. Even as Christians we can find ourselves praying for God to rekindle the fire that use to burn passionately for Him. We say “Jesus is the Reason for the season” and try to force our focus back on Christ despite the shallowness that bombards us daily. 

Every year I resolve not to spend all my energy on presents and parties. I vow to create memories and deepen traditions while my children are still little. Yet somehow I still feel desperate to show them more. Why? Because they are growing too fast and there is so much I want to say to them about Christmas. Just a few short years away real life is waiting for them and I know what kind of harsh surprises time may have up its sleeve.

The 3 "littlest". Even they won't be little very long. 

I would like to believe that if I looked into my children's future they would be in warm houses with picket fences, have happy marriages, and lots of healthy children. I would hope their biggest worry would be what to serve for Christmas dinner. 

Yet, all around me I am confronted with reality. We are beyond blessed, yet I find my heart heavy as I offer up prayers for people I care for deeply. 

Honest Christians who need jobs, 

loving mothers who await test results; 

faithful friends who mourn the loss of those that can never be replaced. 

I see parents fighting to make an orphan legally their own only to have their intentions questioned. I mean, who could possible love a child with HIV?  (insert eye roll) 

I see other families battling to be reunited with children that God knit into their hearts- desperately praying for God to keep them safe in the meantime.

I see wives fighting to fake Christmas cheer for little ones who feel the weight of a Daddy deployed. Who knew marrying a warrior would mean you had to be one? 

I pray for the faces and the hearts I know and then my mind wanders to all those I don’t. Those who are hurting tonight. My mind journeys past parents who mourn children; past children who mourn parents, or perhaps have never known any. There is so much brokenness in the world. And I see God at work everywhere; I really do. It’s just that this doesn’t look the way I thought Christmas should look.

“Lord, it’s Christmas. It seems so unfitting that there would be such a feeling of… darkness for so many.”

He whispers, Look closer”.

The story is so familiar that my ears almost go numb at the sound of it: Mary, Joseph, a census and a journey; a stable and a baby. And somehow here in the quiet I see it. I allow myself to ponder it. 

I wonder how long she was in labor. I wonder if the smell of the animals mingling with pain and exhaustion made her nauseous. I know one thing for sure. This wasn't how she thought it would look. After an angel announced that she would give birth to the Savior I bet she felt every emotion we could think of and many we can’t. She must have felt such anticipation and excitement. Yet, I suspect there were days she felt sadness for what would never be. Her marriage just wouldn't start the way she thought it would. Her dreams and plans would have to die to this new life. And in that smelly stable she would go through childbirth and though I imagine she was overwhelmed with love and joy as she held the Messiah, surely at some point she must have looked around and said, “Lord, I just didn't think this is how it would look.”

And can I be painfully honest?

After this birth they would still have to flee to protect Jesus’ life. Herod wanted to kill Him and ordered the murder of every boy younger than 2. Children were massacred. It’s the ugly, hateful truth. Evil was there, even then. It was dark.

And hear me friends, we can’t appreciate the light until we acknowledge the dark. It is real. And we can’t grit our teeth and force joy by decorating a tree, wrapping up more than we can afford, and pretending everything is perfect. It’s so contrary to how Jesus came. We are so wrong to think we can just “simplify” or remember to “keep Christ in Christmas”. We must acknowledge the dark because that is what makes Christmas so awe-inspiring. It is the very thing that breathes joy into our soul- that there is a Light that can eradicate this darkness we feel. 

Yes, the Messiah came. But why?

He came to banish the darkness. Forever.

He came to defeat death. To abolish loneliness and heal heartache- even the deepest, most unbearable heartache. Even that heartache you are hiding. 
He would later drink down every ounce of God’s wrath toward our sin and die on a cross to absorb the punishment. And three days later He would rise in victory. And do you know where He is now? At God’s right hand, praying for YOU. 

Constantly... until you cross over and you see the fullness of that victory- where death has lost its sting and the cares of this world are no more.

Oh, sure, the story isn't finished. We wait in expectation just like Mary did- for a coming Messiah. And maybe tonight you are struggling in that wait. Maybe your heart is heavy. Maybe Christmas feels sort of dark. To you I propose that there is more reason than ever to be joyful this Christmas. When you acknowledge the darkness you can appreciate the coming of the Light.

Even my small boys know about darkness and light. If you give them a flashlight they will run into a dark closet and shut the door. Because the darkness is where we most appreciate the power of the light. 

Yes, this world brings with it lots of hurt. Its pleasures are temporary and nothing it offers ever satisfies. We long for more. We long for deeper joy. We long for a place where loved ones are never separated. But mostly, we just long for God Himself. 

For Hope. 

A Father. 

The One who can Redeem this mess. 

We need Jesus. And when we stop fighting that longing or trying to cover it up with pretty bows- we can rest in the Truth that He IS here with us. He is coming back for us. And He will eradicate this darkness. 

So if I could look into my children's future I would hope to see a lot of comfort and happiness. But at some point they are going to experience darkness of some kind. And I know at least two of them are reading this. So sweet children, I beg you to hear this, my deepest prayer is that when darkness comes you will be ok because I have taught you how to rejoice in the coming of the Light. 

"I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness." - Jesus of Nazareth 

"All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy." - Romans 8:22-25 MSG