Sunday December 15, 2002 | Greg Boyd
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Is the Christmas season as pleasant as the advertisers portray it? Along with the wonder and joy of the Season, many people feel, at times, melancholy, bitter, and depressed. Whatever the case, is it possible to celebrate Christmas with joy if we are experiencing such “unseasonal” emotions?
Is the Christmas season as pleasant as the advertisers portray it? Does the image of families bustling around with smiles and good cheer agree with reality? Is this what the Holidays are like for you and your family? Perhaps they are. However, what is more likely is that the Christmas season produces mixed emotions. Along with the wonder and joy of the Season, many people feel, at times, melancholy, bitter, and depressed. Perhaps we are reminded of loved ones that have died, or we recall how previous Christmases lacked expressions of love and acceptance. Still others might remember with fondness the innocence of Christmas growing up, and wish to return to those earlier days. Whatever the case, is it possible to celebrate Christmas with joy if we are experiencing such “unseasonal” emotions?
Greg answered this question by looking at the expression of love illustrated in I Corinthians 13:7: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This verse communicates the “both/and” quality of love. Love not only means in all things “believing” and “hoping,” but also “bearing” and “enduring.” That is to say, it is possible to have joy in the midst of pain. How do these seemingly paradoxical expressions of love connect to each other?
To illustrate how these contrasting ideas relate, Greg gave the example of a parents’ response to their severely handicapped child. In this hypothetical case, the parents were diligent to pray in love, believing and hoping that God would heal their child. However, they did not deal with the reality of the present situation (that their child is handicapped), and thus did not practice love’s ability to bear and endure all things. If the parents focus only on exhibiting love that believes and hopes, they forget to love their child as s/he is presently. Greg emphasized that we should love in ways that believe and hope for the miraculous. However, he cautioned against love that believes and hopes for the ideal (e.g. that the child be healed), yet fails to bear and endure the real (e.g. that the child is handicapped).
The paradox of love is that its expression is not dependent on circumstances. In fact, Greg shared that God’s love is characterized by what he called “pushing to the ideal by embracing the real.” That is to say, the two contrasting mindsets cannot be separated. The familiar Bible verse John 3:16 illustrates this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God did not ignore the reality of our sinfulness. Instead, God loved us so much that he sent his son Jesus to embrace us in our sin. If we accept Jesus’ embrace then we will experience God’s ideal for us, eternal life.
Greg challenged us not to let our circumstances keep us from living in love right now. We can live in confident assurance because we know that as followers of Jesus our identity is not based on the circumstances and situations of this world. Instead, we are made in God’s image with infinite worth and dignity. As followers of Jesus, our life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). Therefore, we are empowered to live joyfully and passionately in the present as we anticipate Jesus’ return.
Can we celebrate Christmas in the midst of pain? Of course! In fact, that’s what Christmas is all about. It’s about the joy of Jesus coming to earth to save us in our sinful condition. With our identity secure in Jesus (and not the world), we can live joyfully in the midst of pain as we anticipate eternity with him.