What to do when the whole year tries to end with a pathetic whimper.
This post was adapted from a message given by Matthew Gorr,
a preacher at Grandview Christian Assembly
Christmas is upon us again. We’re supposed to be generous and cheerful, as we celebrate, eat figgy pudding (whatever that is), rest from work, and see dear friends and family.
But this is Christmas 2020.
This year has been full of shut downs, cancellations, and furloughs, not to mention lasting anxieties. Every time you get a sniffle for instance, there’s a disquieting concern over what it might mean. Divisions have broken out over everything from masking procedures, to race, to politics. Even the predictable routines of holiday shopping have become more difficult with social distancing. The traditional family large group, parties, and dinners, have been practically ruled out in favor of the virtual. Our usual level of “hectic” is now additionally bound and wrapped in fear.
It would be easy to stop here and offer some basic platitude like, Everything happens for a reason (and someday we’ll know what it was!). But realistically speaking, it has been a rough year for my loved ones. A few of my family members lost their home some months ago, when it burned to the ground. Another lost a baby. And recently my mother-in-law passed away due to covid-19. We’ve been left exhausted and confused.
And now along comes “the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” With everything else going on, who can be excited about it? In fact, I heard of one person who, when receiving Christmas cards from their family, immediately threw them in the trash, saying, “Nope, not this year.”
And yet, has there ever been a smooth Christmas season, including the very first one?
Mary and Joseph had a rough go of it. We find, for instance, Joseph, a newly engaged man, already contemplating divorce from his young bride-to-be. Matthew 1:18-19 says,
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”
Divorce is obviously not a good starting place for a marriage, and just the idea of it must have been terribly disturbing for Joseph. Nor is it relaxing to start a marriage with a baby already on the way.
Worse, the couple had to endure a long road trip to Bethlehem. In today’s world we can cross the country in about six hours, only having to deal with the annoyances of security, and baggage. But Mary and Joseph were required by law to go to Bethlehem and register for the census (Luke 2:1-5). This was a trip of about seventy miles, and during Mary’s third trimester of pregnancy. The only method of travel was by foot or by donkey.
And yet this wasn’t all. For, in Luke 2:7, once they made it to Bethlehem, there was no place for them to stay. It says, “she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
Modern hospitals are full of amenities to make both mother and child comfortable after birth, and yet the only thing available for Mary’s recovery and the baby’s nursery, was a place reserved for animals.
All in all, this couple had a pretty rough year.
Still, the Lord provided.
First, rewinding a bit, He had given Mary and Joseph each a revelation of Christ. The angel Gabriel had said to Mary,
“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” (Luke 1:31-35)
As a provision from God, this revelation strengthened Mary’s commitment: In response, she had said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word…” (1:38). It would serve to calibrate her even as she advanced into an uncomfortable future.
Joseph had also received revelation as he agonized over the possibility of divorcing Mary.
“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’” (Mt. 1:20-21)
This divine disclosure settled the man and gave him peace and purpose. He wasn’t supposed to abide in his frustration and confusion, still less, to leave. Nor was Mary’s condition the result of an immoral act that might have called for separation. Rather, God was doing something great, and Joseph was to cooperate.
In addition to personally receiving revelation from God, Mary and Joseph heard the word from others. The night Jesus was born, shepherds came, bringing the gospel to them both. As it turns out, these men had been in the fields tending their flocks, when,
“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:9-14)
When the shepherds came with this news of what had happened, verse 19 says, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Nor was this the only time others brought the couple encouragement.
Later, when the infant Jesus was circumcised, two elderly prophets, Simeon and Anna, also praised God for the child, saying, “my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:31-32). Mary and Joseph heard these words, and added them to their already growing bank of inspiration.
And so the Lord provided the couple encouragement through multiple channels in the midst of external discomforts.
God today also comforts and provides for us in His Son. Even though this year has been rough for me and my family, I continue to receive spiritual provisions in Christ through the regular study of His word. In the mornings I’ll read a chapter and pray, taking notes from what I gained.
For instance, on July 17th, I made a note from Galatians chapter 2—“May Christ fully dwell in me, and may what I am be made of Christ Alone.” Then, later, on November 6th, from Romans chapter 8, I noted, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord—what a reason not to be anxious!” Notations like these remind me that in the midst of particular hard times, the Lord provided me settling words, and encouraging revelations.
I’ve also experienced great encouragement from our local church. When my mother-in-law passed away a few weeks ago, many people reached out to bring us meals. Of course, they augment this care by their spiritual support in our regular Tuesday night zoom meetings. We might be tired after work, but just seeing faces helps a lot. I guess Tuesday is a big day for me, because that morning, at 6:15, some of the brothers get together online, where we consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, and encourage one another like in Hebrews 10:24.
Divine provision in the midst of your hardship can come as easily as asking for it. At times though, even when you don’t know what to ask, you might simply be reading and reflecting upon a verse, meditating upon it, and praying according to it, when God breaks through with an understanding that changes everything. An encouragement can come that uplifts, a revelation that realigns. Perhaps it doesn’t happen suddenly, all in one sitting, but certainly over a period of time. And never discount the faith community that can bring all-important words to you when you’ve run dry of your own.
In Christ, anyone can receive heavenly provisions, whether it is a young woman puzzled about her future, a husband troubled about his wife, or a couple on the ropes of life.
God isn’t limited by the situation.