Here’s my lastest Greenville News column. Merry Christmas, now and especially in the future…
It’s a common misconception that emergency rooms are filled with victims of gunshots wounds and car crashes, poisonings and heart attacks. And indeed, some are. The big referral centers like Greenville Memorial are constantly awash in that sort of thing.
However, much of what fills all ER’s is far more common; cough and cold, weakness and dizziness, abdominal pain and back pain, fever and sore throat. And lots and lots of human sorrow and broken lives.
The older I grow the more all of it moves me. I am saddened that we cannot make new kidneys and free those enslaved to dialysis machines. I’m heart-broken that not every cardiac arrest can sit up and say, ‘well that was weird!’ and go home with his or her family. I so wish that seniors could wake from the twilight of dementia and reclaim their memories. That every sick child would grow to vibrant adulthood.
I am always stunned by cancer; by the way it almost seems to spring from the darkness and attack at random. Not long ago I had to give a man that terrible news. I hate that. I feel sorrow for the alcoholic, the narcotic addict, and their loved ones. For the abused woman, assaulted man and molested child. For the schizophrenic, homeless vet. For the lonely senior with literally nobody left on earth who knows him. I could cry with the teen from a chaotic home, cutting to distract herself from her inner turmoil. I want to hug the old couple, raising grandchildren out of shear force of love and devotion.
What I want is for all of the pain to end. I want to wake one morning and find that all the sufferings and sorrows have evaporated and a new day has dawned. I want to go to work and find the ER doors locked. ‘Closed permanently, no more sickness.’ I want to be jobless.
And given the season, I want everyone to have a warm home and food, with gifts and laughter. More than that I want everyone to have the love of people all around; to have friends, parents, spouses, children and grandchildren (or great-grandchildren).
But this is hardly new. This has been the wish of all humanity (in one way or an other) since we first opened our eyes to consciousness, blinked and saw suffering. Since we first realized what things were, and were aware enough to wish they could be otherwise.
And so it is that I realized that we Christians make a mistake when we become too sentimental about Christmas Past. It’s sometimes a wonderful memory; but often as not, for many people, it’s just another hard day, another season of struggle or shattered dreams.
However, even the first Christmas was marked by trouble and suffering. But then, that was the point, right? Despite the way we have made Jesus into some kind of jolly, vaguely holy Santa Claus of nice feelings, he didn’t come to help us have a nice temporal life, or a brightly colored tree, or a lovely memory of ‘how nice things were in the old days.’
God leapt into a world of trouble and suffering, of sin and sorrow, of remorse and regret, of hopelessness and innumerable pains of body, mind and soul. He intimately knew the pain of it all. He became the Christ child, the Christ man, in order that man could look forward, not back.
As Jesus is increasingly politicized around current events, I think it might be nice to pause and reflect. The birth of Jesus was prelude to his death. And for all his good works that we are to emulate, his life in this world was about saving us from sin and pointing us to a new heaven and a new earth. His hard words about sin a diagnosis of our reality. His death and resurrection the model and means of our own redemption and true life. His moral truths not weapons to flog others, but guideposts to take us home. His kindness, his healing, his generosity not the end of his work but the outflowing of it; hallmarks of the kingdom now, foretastes of the Kingdom to come. His words and actions always pointing us to the time when the dreams of humanity are realized and life begins again as it should.
Christmas past and present may sometimes be grand and sometimes be painful. But Christ came for Christmas future, spent with him.
I can celebrate that.