We are called to come to Christ in the same condition that Christ came to us: vulnerable and wounded.
In the incarnation, Christ came to us in one little mass of vulnerability, a baby. Born in unsanitary conditions, susceptible to disease, that little child was defenseless against the harsh realities of this world. Matthew 2:13-18 tells us that Herod even commissioned the murder of all the male children in Bethlehem to try to kill the Christ-child. Of course, Jesus grew up to be the Man of Sorrows, suffering and dying for our sake: Jesus was no stranger to pain and brokenness. As I drove home from the church today, I was struck by how aptly the words to the Derek Webb song “We Welcome You” (#6 on i see things upside down) describe this:
“as You came to us so we come to You, fragile as a baby hopeful and new,
but learning fast that to walk is to fall, soon we’ve done it all”
It’s no secret that we’ve fallen – the pain we experience every day bears witness to that. Christmastime brings out the wounds we all bear as a result of sin, whether our own or the effects of another person’s sin which have been afflicted upon us. Shattered families, addiction, depression, etc., all inflict pain upon the world’s population, and the idyllic images we see of perfect families, happiness, and excesses of material gifts create simulacra in our minds to which reality cannot live up. Life here is flawed and painful, no matter what the movies tell us.
The miracle of Christmas is that Christ comes to meet us, to be God-with-us, in the midst of that very brokenness and accepts it himself. That is why we are able to come to Christ just as we are, waiting to be transformed by his power:
“we come broken and we come undone, we come trying hard to love everyone
but we come up short in all that we do, because we do, so we come to You”
At youth group last night, as I listened to a group of teenage guys talk in allusions and hints about the deep pains in their lives that surface at Christmas, I tried to point them to our only source of hope. I quoted Psalm 42:5, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him for the help of his presence.” To that suggestion, one of the kids responded with, “I’ve given up on hope.”
I’m writing this because I’m convinced that in times when the circumstances of life make us despair that much, the absolute most important thing to do is to look to Christ. Only in Christ do we have the hope of becoming new creations, of making this world a new creation, of finding the forgiveness, love, grace, and freedom that allows us to extend the same mercies to others. The part that hurts, and the reason that boy said he was giving up on hope, is because hoping in Christ does not alleviate all our pain. Sometimes the pain intensifies, like a surgery that rips us open so that healing can begin. Sometimes the pain sticks with us like Paul’s thorn in the side, haunting us, humbling us, reminding us of our need for Christ. Again, Webb’s words speak the simple truth about this:
“You came to show the way not around but through, so through it all we come to You”
Not a way around the pain, not medication (cf. Webb's song "Medication"), not anything that blurs our vision of reality now, but a way to endure thanks to the even more real redeeming power of our God, who came to us fully exposed to the pain we feel.
“as You came to us so we come to You, dirty and hurting, then dead in the tomb
but raised redeemed to show off the scars, ‘cause You’ve brought us this far”
This Advent, I pray that God will grant us (me, you, our families, the kids at Northmont) all the grace to realize that in Christ we’re “raised redeemed,” even if we still bear the scars of this world, because our hope is Christ.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” -1 Peter 1:3 -