“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” or so the songs tell us. It is indeed wonderful, and not just because of the holiday greetings, gay, happy meetings, or friends come to call. It is for the very true reason of Immanuel... God with us. Consider some of the many words found among our vocabulary around Christmas: joy, adore, rejoice, peace, blessed, hallelujah, hark! Glory in the highest!
Yet there is another important set of words inseparable from the Christmas season, such as grief, sorrow, rejection, no beauty, lost the way, cut off, oppressed, wounded, suffering, crushed.
We’re all aware that sometimes Christmas doesn’t seem all that jolly for some of us. The “happy holidays” simply aren’t so happy for those who experience the loss of a loved one (or the anniversary of that loss), accentuated loneliness or estranged relationships, or simply the stress of unmet expectations. However, my point isn’t that we should be more sensitive to others (though we should) or to cast a cloud over our celebrations (which we shouldn’t). It is to say that not only are the words in that second list inseparable from the Christmas season, but they are also essential to the Christmas message.
But before you label me the new Grinch (which, by the way, the original by Boris Karloff will always be the quintessential version, no?), let’s see those words in context. Centuries before Jesus was laid in a manger, there was Jesus prophesied in Scripture. God-breathed words foretold the “reason for the season”: that there were people (all of humanity) walking in darkness, separated from God. The prophet relaying those God-breathed words was Isaiah. And we read them here (emphases mine):
...he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Our rejoicing… our true rejoicing… at Christmas will never know proper heights until we embrace the extent to which Christ bore our grief. Your grief. That he was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Your transgressions... your iniquities. The reality of where we would be apart from the Messiah is the platform for our rejoicing at the advent of Immanuel!
We can sing “O come let us adore him”
because he was the one utterly despised and unesteemed.
We can sing “Joy to the world”
because he was the man of sorrows and so acquainted with grief.
We can “Go Tell It On The Mountain”
because he endured the chastisement that brought us peace.
Even those of us perhaps enduring grief this season (in our already-but-not-yet existence as citizens of heaven) can come to the cross of Jesus and be reminded that he has born the fuller weight of all our sorrow. We can come to the manger of Jesus to rejoice in God’s amazing grace to know the Father was, in fact, pleased at this plan. May we rejoice afresh as we dwell this Christmas on the good plan of our sovereign God to have the man of sorrows be the source of all true Christmas joy!