When Christmas Hurts
Topic: Biblical Verse: Isaiah 40:1–40:31
“When Christmas Hurts” Homily
December 20, 2018
Isaiah 40:1, 25-31
In this season of holiday cheer, with beautiful music and decorations all around us, it can be very unsettling to feel out of step with the world around us. When everyone else is enjoying themselves, we find ourselves weighed down with feelings of grief or loss, pain or sorrow. We wonder what is wrong with us, and why we feel as we do. We try to put on a brave face and go through the motions, but it is a struggle and it can be exhausting. We may also feel like we are spiritually empty; God seems distant and aloof from what we are going through. It can be a help to know that we are not the first people to experience all of this. Countless others who have gone before us have also experienced these same painful seasons of life. What can we learn from them?
The Scripture reading from Isaiah 40 begins what is called “The Book of Consolation,” stretching from Isaiah 40-55. The prophet, who lived some 750 years before the time of Christ, is called to announce the coming of the Lord. Originally spoken to God’s people living in exile in far-off Babylon, Isaiah announced that they would be coming home again to Jerusalem. The omnipotent and omniscient God who created the heavens and the earth is concerned for the people He has created. The hearts of God’s people had grown weary and discouraged with all that they had lost and all that they have suffered. They say things like, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by God” (Isaiah 40:27b). Sound familiar? Don’t we think and say these same things in our own lives when our hearts have grown weary and discouraged with what we have lost and suffered?
The Lord speaks a word of mild reproof, as well as a word of hopeful encouragement, to his people then and now: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Isaiah 40:28-29). When we are feeling weak and vulnerable, fragile and broken, we need to be reminded that the Lord God who created us, who loves us, and who sent his only Son to die for us, has our back. He has not forgotten us. He tells us: “… but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). The Lord God calls us to wait for him, but waiting can be hard to do. How long, O Lord? We long to have our strength and hope renewed. We ache for the day when weariness and faint heartedness will give way to revitalized energy and vigor. Though we may not feel like it, the Lord calls us to patient hope in our waiting. This is where the help and care of others is a great gift. By allowing others to enter into our pain and suffering, they help us to wait. They help to bear our burdens. They become the hands and feet and mouth of Jesus. Through their ministry of listening and caring, they help us, bit by bit and day by day, to mount up with wings like eagles.
My mother was 96 years old last week. Her eyesight and hearing are failing. She is bent over with osteoarthritis, and she sometimes feels like life is hard to bear. She is ready for the Lord to come and take her. But when I spoke to her on Sunday afternoon, she shared with me something that she memorized for her congregation’s Christmas program more than eighty years ago when she was in Confirmation. It was a stanza of a Christmas hymn by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676), and she remembered it perfectly:
All my heart again rejoices
As I hear far and near
Sweetest angel voices.
“Christ is born!” their choirs are singing
Till the air everywhere
Now with joy is ringing.
This is what brightens our darkest days. This is the “good news of great joy that is for all people” (Luke 2:10), even people who are feeling weak and broken. Isaiah prophesied the coming of the Savior, but he did not live to see this. We, however, live this side of Christmas, and we look back on what took place so long ago in Bethlehem. The gift of God’s love, strength, peace, and hope in that tiny Babe of Bethlehem brings light to our darkness and joy to our sadness. Know that this gift is for you, and that this Jesus invites you to come to him with your burdens and your cares. In Jesus, who loves you and shed his blood for you, you will find rest for your soul.
When Christmas hurts, and it does sometimes hurt for all of us, let us go back to that gift of all gifts which money cannot buy nor good works deserve: the gift of Jesus. There is healing and hope for each one of us in him. Amen.
Let us pray:
O Lord, you know the deep places through which our lives must go. Help us, when we enter them, to lift our hearts to you. Help us to be patient when we are afflicted, to be humble when we are in distress; and grant that the hope of your mercy, revealed in the birth of Jesus, may never fail us and the consciousness of your loving kindness may never be clouded or hidden from our eyes. Hear us and help us for the sake of him who is our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.