This is my column in last Sunday’s Greenville News.  Merry Christmas to all.

Christmas brings hope and joy amidst life’s pain.

(And life can really punch you in the gut!)

This is one of our favorite seasons as a family. One Sunday, we put up all our decorations in a frantic three hour effort between morning and evening church activities. As usual, my wife has made the place beautiful by directing all of us the way a conductor directs the orchestra. ‘No, those lights here. No, there’s a gap in the tree. Yes, put the couch here, and the nativity set on that table.’ Her tastes are exquisite.

We have done most of our shopping. (Much of it accomplished on recent kid-free date night in Greenville.) The trees are lit, the children well. We have already enjoyed Christmas more than many ever will. So it was after some particularly terrifying news about a loved one that my son said to me, ‘it’s a shame it had to happen at Christmas, isn’t it?’ I agreed. But then I thought about it, and realized, ‘yes, but isn’t it wonderful Christmas came now?’

Anyone who keeps Christmas wants it to be magical. We want it to be a time of bright parties and sumptuous dinners. We long for healthy, happy families who open lavish gifts under sparkling Christmas trees, while everyone laughs and sings. This is the modern image we hold dear; and on it, we sprinkle the nativity as a kind of afterthought. Like the birth of Jesus was really icing on the already yummy cake of history.

In point of fact, however, history (like our lives) has more often been tasteless at best and bitter at worst. The regular lives of regular individuals down the ages have been punctuated by trouble after trouble, by bad news and by suffering. There are always lovely points, hopeful times, children born, loves found. But pain and loss, misery and fear have always been running in the background of human lives.

Humans, therefore, have always cried out for help, for solace, for relief, for hope. To be sure, it was that way when Jesus was born. Diseases that make us yawn with boredom in our modern teaching centers took children from their parents. Accident victims lost limbs or died; they were not swept off to hospitals in ambulances and given life-saving treatment. Injustice led to the execution or imprisonment of untold powerless, innocent persons. Families were devastated by war, separated by slavery, decimated by epidemic, leveled by famine. Communication with distant loved ones was by letter if at all.

That was the world into which Jesus was born. That was the background, the standard situation, of life on earth. Christmas as we celebrate it took quite a while to develop. In fact, the early church wasn’t really that interested in Christmas as such. But they were interested in the arrival of Jesus on earth.

They were transformed and uplifted by the way God became man so that He could reach mere humans, teach mere humans, suffer with mere humans, die for mere humans and rise to redeem mere humans; and in the process make them less than mere in their likeness to Him.

Christmas, it seems, came at just the right time. Because it was never meant to be about lovely perfection, which is all we see on advertisements and often in movies or television shows. Christmas, in fact, is about life as it is.

Christmas, more to the point Jesus, is about accidents and diseases; about sorrow and loss, broken hearts, lonely families, sin and guilt. It’s about tragic headlines, wars and rumors of wars. Christmas comes in the midst of reality, and reality is a mixture of joy and pain; emphasis on the pain. But Jesus, therefore Christmas, is about hope, order, forgiveness, transformation and meaning in all of that wretched mess.

Jesus comes to you, to us, and is born into our meager situations, our dirty mangers, our occupied countries, our broken lives so that he can comfort us in person, so that he can hold us and show us the way home to Him.

So if your Christmas is hard, or bitter; if it lacks ideal proportions and lovely decorations, if it is punctuated by anxiety and uncertainty, it is perhaps more true to the season than all the rest. I pray you have no suffering this season; that all the glory of Christmas lights your world. But if that seems unlikely, remember you’re right on track.

Because Jesus is light in darkness and hope in hopelessness; not sprinkles on a pastry.

PS  To my readers:  the terrible news I mentioned above was actually a new diagnosis of an unsuspected cancer.  The family member is my wife, mother of my children, Jan.  We are terrified.  We are moving forward with resolve, but are shell-shocked.  If you are interested, you can learn more as you read backward on this blog, or on my Facebook page.  I will update both frequently as we travel this road with God’s grace.

What I ask from you, my friends, is this:  prayers and encouragement.  Over the last 15 years I have told you, in many columns and more recently blog posts, the stories of my family.  My wife and I have matured and my children have grown up with you as extended family.  Since you are family, please pray, and pass on this prayer request to anyone and everyone you know.  I want us all to float along on a cloud of prayer, for comfort, strength and complete healing of her disease.  I want hope and strength.  I want comfort for the children (and husband) who love her so.  I believe in miracles and in medicine and in various wonderful combinations of the two.
Please pray with us
Thank you–

Edwin

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