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The Sacrifice of the Christmas Promise

The Sacrifice of the Christmas Promise

How many Christmases, with the world focused on the baby who came into the world, am I going to be blogging about losing a baby?

Ughhhhh.

So I’ve been doing a whole lot of praying and listening and talking with God and a whole lot of processing and writing (well, actually, those are never mutually exclusive from the first three but rather synonymous with them), and I’ve made some progress from where I was in my “Angry” article. Not quite at the place to be able to share any helpful insights, yet, but He hasn’t left me. On the contrary, He’s been working with me as I yell and curl up in a ball and weep and search and try to figure out just what has happened, how I got things so wrong, and where I go from here with respect to hearing Him.

With all that going on in my soul, Christmas looms.

Christmas. The day that is all about a baby. Still.

 

Looking For the Promise

Once again, I’m here, at this holiday, not feeling the peace or joy or glory. I’m identifying less with the angels singing than with the dung on the stable floor.

When I re-read the Christmas story (only, to be honest, because of reading it to my kids, not because I wanted to immerse myself in the whole miracle-to-the-world when I’m stuck in my didn’t-get-the-miracle-world), I did see something that hit me where I am, this Christmas.

Luke 2 tells us that Simeon was “looking forward to Israel’s consolation”, and that “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah”. Likewise, the prophetess Anna came up to Jesus’ family in the temple and began to “thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”. These people knew the Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah who was to come, and they were looking for Him.

In other words, people were waiting, looking for, hoping for the promise.

I was recently waiting in expectation for a promise, too.

This promise, the Messiah, did come. It was fulfilled, in Jesus, the baby born in the dirty, dingy animal cave.

“See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Emmanuel”. (Matthew 1:23).

“Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough—because there was no room for them at the lodging place”. (Luke 2:7)

And, yes, there were angels singing and a star shining and there was glory and wonder.

But that’s not all there was.

 

Suffering At Christmas

You see, there was also this jealous king named Herod, who didn’t want any king, human or divine, to take his spotlight. So what did he do? He set up a murderous rampage throughout Bethlehem and killed every male child age two and under. Slaughtered them, in an attempt to kill this possible usurper.

As we all know, Jesus and his family escaped thanks to the angel’s warning to Joseph, but the fact remains that many families, that day, lost their precious, longed-for baby boy. The one they had hoped for and desperately desired and prayed for – the one that would bring honor to their family and ensure their lineage and be their security when they were old. The one with the nose just like his daddy’s and the sweetest toothless smile and the look of love that wrapped himself around his mama’s heart.

Jeremiah prophesied this event and its effect:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,

mourning and great weeping,

Rachel weeping for her children

and refusing to be comforted,

because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15)

God’s promise involved tremendous pain.

 

Those families, I’ll bet, if they had any understanding of the promise that was unfolding, still wouldn’t have felt joy. Their role in the Christmas story, their role in the promise, was one of SACRIFICE. While the Christ child grew in wisdom and stature and God’s plan for redemption of the world was coming to fruition, families, who were very much a part of the promise, mourned.

I’ll bet they felt the words of Isaiah (59:5):

“Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We hope for light, but there is darkness; for brightness, but we live in the night.”

There was no reason for Emmanuel, God with us, to need to be with us, if not for pain. There was no need for light to come into the world, unless there were darkness.

 

Sacrifice is Part of the Promise

I’m with the families of Bethlehem, this year. The people who waited and longed for the Messiah – for the promise – having no idea of the personal sacrifice that promise would entail. I am still working through issues around my own personal promise from the Lord, but I do know this:

Being part of a promise always involves sacrifice.

The families of Bethlehem sacrificed. Mary and Joseph sacrificed. The Promise Himself – Jesus –

Yeah, he sacrificed too.

This Christmas, we celebrate the hope that Jesus brought the world. The fulfillment of the promise God made to reconcile the world to Himself – to bridge the gap we created between ourselves and Him – so that we could experience Him…and He is life. The reward from the promise is the greatest gift we could possibly ever know – intimate fellowship, forever, with our Creator.

But it took sacrifice to get there. And it still takes sacrifice, to be a part of the promise.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian martyred by the Nazis in 1945, stated it eloquently:

“Jesus must therefore make it clear beyond all doubt that the ‘must’ of suffering applies to his disciples no less than to himself. Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as he shares his Lord’s suffering…Jesus says that every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God. Each must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection…Suffering, then is the badge of true discipleship…Within the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, suffering is overcome by suffering, and becomes the way to communion with God…Suffering has to be endured in order that it may pass away.”

May we not enter this Christmas with a sense of cheap grace. May we not trivialize God With Us entering this heart-wrenching, dark place we live as simply “love come into the world” so we can go on our merry way with warm feelings in our hearts. There is a price, a sacrifice, with every one of God’s promises – one that Christ paid with his life. And if we want to be a part of that promise – and want to experience its wonderful fulfillment – it will require sacrifice from us as well.

This baby, this glorious gift to mankind, the fulfillment of God’s promise to save humanity from itself…

Bids us to come and die with Him.

It is only when we do that hope, that life, that His promise can be realized.

“I assure you: You will weep and wail, but the world will rejoice. You will become sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. 21 When a woman is in labor she has pain because her time has come. But when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the suffering because of the joy that a person has been born into the world. 22 So you also have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will rob you of your joy… I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:20-22, 33)

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us”. (Romans 8:18)

This Christmas, as I struggle against another loss, I am thankful that my suffering is not in vain. Whether I had a personal promise from the Lord or not about future children, I am, in Christ, part of a bigger promise. I am a part of the redemption He is doing in this world – the reclaiming of this broken, fallen place into the essence He created it to be. My suffering ushers me into the sacrifice of Christ, and reminds me that, although I don’t feel it right now, I am part of the most phenomenal hope ever given. Like those families in Bethlehem, I may be broken in this moment, but, with my suffering, I am a part of the most magnificent work God has ever done.

“The people walking in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of deep darkness

a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)

 

As I walk through the darkness, this Christmas, I remember that the light has come. And the light at the end of this tunnel, the fulfillment of this Christmas promise –

is the reward that makes all the sacrifice worth it.

 

 

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