Great Joy For All Men – Even in Pain and Suffering

(I apologize for the length of this post. I shared this message at our Christmas Eve Service last night at Central Baptist Church.)

Perhaps this year, more than ever before, I have been aware of those who are facing all manner of pain, suffering and sorrow this Christmas season. I have a great uncle and a cousin who died in the past week. I think of a church member’s family who, for the third consecutive Christmas season, lost a family member. I saw on the news yesterday morning about two firefighters who lost their lives this week. I saw a Facebook post yesterday morning about a family member and a friend who died within two days of each other. I know of church members who have sick family members, some of whom could be soon facing death. I have a friend who recently found out that a family member of his has lost a baby late in the pregnancy and will have to deliver the baby, though it will not be alive. Can there be joy this Christmas in the midst of such a heart-wrenching situation?

For still others, they are struggling this Christmas because of separation from family members. In some cases, these family members are in the military, standing in harm’s way for the freedoms that we enjoy, or seeking to bring freedom to others.  In other cases, young families with young children are serving as missionaries overseas, separated from parents and grandparents this Christmas, perhaps as many Christmases before. And, some of these are serving in places where not only separation from family is an issue, but where the potential for physical danger is even a possibility.

Is there hope for a joyful Christmas for those who are facing such pain, sorrow, difficulty and fear? I believe that the joy of Christmas is potentially more real to them than anyone else. You may say, “Pastor Randy, how is that even possible?”

I came across an article by Al Mohler entitled, “And Them That Mourn – Celebrating Christmas in the Face of Grief and Sorrow” from which I will share a couple of lengthy quotes. But, first, it is important to distinguish between happiness and joy. Happiness is an emotion which ebbs and flows in response to our circumstances. I feel happiness when things around me are, well, happy. The point here is not to encourage people who are suffering simply to “be happy” or to “turn that frown upside down,” as my daughter Abbie used to say to me. The joy we talk about at Christmas is an altogether different thing. It is not dependent on my circumstances. It is that rock-solid, unshakable peace and contentment that I can experience in spite of my circumstances. That is the joy that Christ brought to us. That is why the angel would announce: “I bring you good tidings of great JOY that shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10) So, yes, even those – perhaps, especially those – who are suffering during this Christmas season can experience the joy of Christmas! Why?

Christmas Joy is possible in suffering because joy came in the midst of darkness and suffering.

Think about the passages you have read or heard over the past several weeks:

  1. Isaiah 9:1-2 – “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” (emphasis added)
  2. Luke 1:78-79 – “…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Darkness did not come in and lessen the light of Christmas. No, darkness was already upon us and the light of Christ, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, came to us in the midst of darkness and sorrow and made possible both joy and hope in the midst of our darkness.

Christmas Joy is possible in suffering because God gave us Himself. We are not alone in suffering.

This is the significance of the incarnation. God did not send an angel or an emissary. He gave us Himself. God, the Son, came to us as a baby, identifying with us in our humanity – experiencing the same hurts and sufferings we face. God came near, and gave us Himself.

  1. Isaiah 7:14 – “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
  2. Matthew 1:20-23 – “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
  3. John 1:14 – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace truth.”

The joy of Christmas comes in knowing that God gave us Himself. So, even in the midst of our suffering, we do not suffer alone. He is with us, through the indwelling presence of His Spirit who now lives within us.

Christmas Joy is possible in suffering because Christ came to die, to put an end to death.

All people were born to live, that is, for the purpose of life. Jesus, however, was born to die. He came to be born so that He could die – die in your place and mine, the death that we deserved because of our sin. Here we see the significance of the virgin birth.

  1. Isaiah 7:14 – “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
  2. Luke 1:26-37 – “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”

And so it had to be. Yes, the virgin birth is a big deal. It is a non-negotiable. Had Jesus been born to two earthly parents, to Mary and Joseph, He would have been born into sin and in need of a savior just like us. But that is not what the Bible says happened. He was born of a virgin, supernaturally conceived in her by the Spirit of God. He is the Son of Man, and the Son of God. He was born sinless. He lived a sinless life. He died as an acceptable sacrifice, not for His own sin, but for mine and yours, and then rose from the dead 3 days later, conquering death, hell and the grave, so that we might, through Him, know the hope and joy of forgiveness of sin, eternal life, and restored relationship with God as our Father.

Mohler writes, “The great truth of Christmas is that the Father so loves the world that he sent his own Son to assume human flesh and to dwell among us, to die for our sins and to suffer for our iniquity, and to declare that the kingdom of God is at hand. This same Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day, conquering death and sin. There is salvation, full pardon from sin, and life everlasting to those who believe and trust in him. Christmas is especially for those who mourn and suffer grief, for the message of Christmas is nothing less than the death of death in the death and resurrection of Christ.”

Christmas Joy is possible in suffering because, since Christ is alive, pain and suffering are not the final answer.

 You might ask, if Jesus died and rose again to conquer sorrow, death and hell, then why is there so much of it still around? In a word, grace? Grace? Yes, grace. Our gracious God is longsuffering, giving men the opportunity to repent. But, one day, perhaps one day soon, time as we know it will end and God will bring to a final culmination what He inaugurated at Christ’s incarnation – the fulfillment of His kingdom – where sorrow, pain, sickness and death will be no more.

We wait for that day. But, until then, we have to deal with pain and sorrow, grief and mourning. We identify with what Paul writes in Romans 8, where he notes that even creation longs to be made new. We look with eager anticipation for the day when what John the Apostle saw comes to pass: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

We can celebrate now in Christmas Joy, even in the midst of our pain and sorrow, because we know that our experience of grief and sorrow in this world is not the end. And until we meet face-to-face the Son of God who came and gave His life for us, we walk together in the hope and joy that only He could bring.

I want to challenge you this Christmas, perhaps like never before, to both encourage and pray for those who are suffering or mourning this Christmas. Pray that God will fill their hearts with the hope and joy of Christ this Christmas.

I’ll close with one last quote from Mohler: “Christians bear a particular responsibility to surround fellow believers with this confidence, and to minister Christmas joy and love to those bearing griefs. We stand together in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, declaring with the Apostle Paul that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God. We bind one another’s hearts, respect one another’s tears, and remind one another of the blessed hope. For, it was Christ himself who promised that our “sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20). When we sing Christmas carols and read the great Christmas texts of the Bible, we hurl the message of life over death against the evil one and death, who meet their ultimate defeat in Christ.”

May God use our lives this Christmas to glorify Him and to strengthen and encourage those who mourn.

Photo courtesy of Janna Wages on Flickr.

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