Everything in our culture tells us that Christmas is a joyful season: friends, family, food, and gifts all encourage us to celebrate Christmas. But for many people, the Christmas season can be a painful reminder of the difficulties of life. Many people will celebrate this Christmas for the first time without a spouse or a loved one that has died. Some people will celebrate this Christmas for the first time without their spouse, due to a divorce. For others Christmas can be a painful reminder of financial hardships. Ironically, it is often during those times when we are supposed to be happy and joyful that our suffering and pain can be felt most vividly.
Christmas in a Broken World
It can be hard to have a "merry Christmas" because the reality is that we live in a world that has been utterly damaged and broken by sin. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, the world fell with them (Genesis 3.17-19). Before sin entered the world, there were no thorns; now that sin is here, there are thorns a plenty. Before the world fell, work and labor were easy and joyful things; now they are toilsome and difficult and painful. Before the world fell, human beings enjoyed a perfect relationship with God; now we are separated from him. Before the world fell there was no disease and no accidents; but now that the world is marred by sin there is suffering. When we look around and see the pain and suffering of the world, and we wonder, "Why?" the Bible gives us a very good explanation: because we live in a sinful fallen world, filled with sinful fallen people, who do sinful fallen things. If we trace it back far enough, sin is the root cause of all of our problems and difficulties.
For this reason, times and seasons that should be merry and joyful, aren't. When we experience the sadness of a first Christmas without a loved one who has died, we are getting a very real taste of the effects of sin. And the fact that we live in a broken, fallen world can make even joyful occasions bitter. The Apostle Paul calls these effects of sin that we experience our "sufferings of this present time." He says that the world has been "subjected to futility," and that it is in "bondage to corruption" (Romans 8.18-21). Because we live in this kind of world, we taste death and pain and suffering, and happy times - like Christmas - can hurt.
Responding to Christmas Pain with Gospel Hope
Although we live in such a world where suffering exists because of sin, Paul says that is no reason to lose hope. There is coming a day when all things will be made new - the earth and the bodies of those who are trusting in Christ will be restored to their condition before sin entered the world. There is coming a day when all things will be made new, and there will be no more pain, no more death, and no more suffering. Imagine a world where there is no suffering to due accidents or severe weather; a world where the doctor will never call with bad news about a suspicious lump or a dark spot on the X-ray. This world is coming, and it will be so glorious that all of the effects of sin under which we suffer in this world won't even be worth remembering (Romans 8.18).
But we aren't there yet. So until that day comes, we wait for it with eager longing. And because we are still here, and because the world hasn't been restored yet, we still feel pain, we still suffer, and we still cry our way through the holidays, missing a loved one or mourning a broken relationship. But because of the hope that we have, Paul says that our attitude as Christians - even and especially when we are living in a world where we suffer from the effects of sin - should be one of expectant hope (Romans 8.24-25). We should view our suffering under the effects of sin through this lens: that there is a glorious rebuilding of the earth and redemption of our bodies in the near future. Let us suffer well in light of this hope.
Although we live in a world that has been damaged by sin, God foresaw our need and enacted a plan for the restoration of the world right after Adam and Eve fell into sin. God said that there would be One who would come - a descendant of the woman (Eve) - who would restore all things to perfection. This One would come into the world and suffer the same ways that we do. He would feel the effects of living in a sinful world. He would be bruised. But in so doing, he would likewise crush the effects of sin (Genesis 3.15). Through his bruising he would crush sin; he would crush death; he would crush suffering; he would crush pain and sadness. All of this Jesus accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection. The effects of sin have been crushed, and now we await the day when all things will be set right again. Because of him, there is coming a glory that will soon be revealed, to which the sufferings of this present time cannot be compared.
However, that time has not yet come. We are still in waiting; we are still groaning; we are still suffering. We are still enduring the holidays without a loved one or in a broken marriage. But take heart in this: God has set a plan in motion to restore the world and redeem the bodies of those who are trusting in Jesus, and it's only a matter of time until that plan comes to fruition. Until we reach that day, remember that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. At Christmas, we celebrate that Jesus came into the world as a man in order to crush the effects of sin in our lives. They no longer leave us hopeless and full of despair, but instead that hopelessness is replaced by an expectant hope for the revealing of the glory of God. This is the hope of the Christmas season, even when Christmas hurts.