I decorated the house for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving this year. As is our custom, I put on Johnny Mathis’, “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”, and my husband helped me carry in 2,500 boxes of Christmas decorations. When Johnny’s CD finished, I put on the five-hour version of Pride and Prejudice, and fixed myself sparkling cranberry juice and buttered popcorn. Greg had left to join some friends in Tucson for the UA vs. ASU football game, so popcorn and leftover pumpkin pie suited me just fine for supper.
During these preparations, however, I was not surprised to find that I had been joined by my usual Christmas companion – grief. He didn’t loom as large, or as dark, as in years past, but was there all the same – my own personal Grinch. This reminded me to revisit something I had written for our church’s Christmas brunch back in 2008. It’s way too long for a blog post, but I’m not in the mood to try and condense it. If you have the fortitude and patience to wade through it all, may it bring light to any darkness you may be experiencing during these advent days of Christmas.
Women of Grace Christmas Brunch December 13, 2008
When ____ first emailed me about speaking for the Christmas brunch, I almost laughed out loud. My first thought was You’ve got to be kidding. Out of all the women in the church, I am probably dreading Christmas the most. In fact, back in September, I began to sort of shrink into myself whenever I thought about the upcoming holidays. As usual, the things I tend to avoid are often the things God leads me to do and, in this case, I sensed God wanting me to give Christmas a closer look.
These past several years, my husband and I have been on a long and difficult journey with our prodigal son. It has been every parent’s worst nightmare – a painful path that God has allowed for reasons that are not yet clear to us. The solid rock truth to which we cling is that God is sovereign, and that He is good. Most everything else is a mystery to us. So the thought of celebrating and being merry this Christmas seems almost like a cruel joke. My grief has made me want to run from Christmas, certainly not embrace it with joy. But during these past few weeks, as I’ve prepared for this devotional, I have discovered that it is Christmas that will be my greatest source of consolation in my grief.
Where is the JOY?
Why do we sometimes want to avoid Christmas? For many of us, any grief, pain or loss that we’ve experienced during the past year becomes magnified. The pain seems sharper, nearer, less able to bear. The Christmas carol “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” makes us want to shout Seriously?!
Charles Spurgeon said, “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”
Sometimes the trials of this life empty our Christmas of its strength, as well as its joy.
Simeon – A Man Who Waited, Embraced and Praised
There is a man in the Gospel of Luke who understood what it meant to truly embrace Christmas. His name is Simeon and Luke gives us this account of his encounter with the Christ child:
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’” Luke 2:25-32 ESV
When Luke says that Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel”, what did he mean?
A Closer Look at Consolation
Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines consolation as:
- Comfort; alleviation of misery or distress of mind; refreshment of mind or spirits.
- That which comforts or refreshes the spirits; the cause of comfort; as the consolation of Israel. (Luke 2:25)
Vine’s Expository Dictionary says that the word consolation is the same Greek word for comfort and encouragement: paraklesis, which means a “calling to one’s side.”
Matthew Henry’s commentary says this about Simeon:
“The same Spirit that provided for the support of Simeon’s hope, provided for his joy. Here is a confession of his faith, that this Child in his arms was the Savior, the salvation itself, the salvation of God’s appointing. He bids farewell to this world. How poor does this world look to one that has Christ in his arms, and salvation in his view!
“The account given of him here is that he waited for the consolation of Israel, that is, for the coming of the Messiah, in whom alone the nation of Israel, that was now miserably harassed and oppressed, would find consolation. Christ is not only the author of his people’s comfort, but the matter and ground of it, the consolation of Israel. He was long in coming, and they who believed he would come continued waiting, desiring his coming, and hoping for it with patience…Note: the Consolation of Israel is to be waited for, and it is worth waiting for, and it will be very welcome to those who have waited for it, and continue waiting. The abundant satisfaction wherewith he (Simeon) welcomed this sight: He took him up in his arms (v. 28), he embraced him with the greatest affection imaginable, laid him in his bosom, as near his heart as he could, which was as full of joy as it could hold.”
Just like Simeon, we longer have to wait for the coming of our Comforter, our Redeemer, our Salvation – for HE HAS COME! And because He has come, Christmas can be a source of joy for us – a reason to celebrate, to deck the halls, bake the cookies, and sing praises to His name.
So Where Do We Find Consolation?
“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:5
Our afflictions may be many, but what joy that God’s comfort also abounds through Christ.
“And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.” 2 Corinthians 1:7
Throughout God’s Word we see that sufferings are accompanied by God’s consolation. If we are truly followers of Christ, then we are pretty much guaranteed suffering at some point along the way. But it is these very trials that prepare our hearts to receive His comfort. We can thank God for that, as they are not “wasted” sorrows.
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16
The consolation we receive from God is everlasting, giving us hope and enabling us to serve God more fully in every good word and work. Grief drains us, but grief accompanied by consolation only serves to strengthen our service to God.
“Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast…” Hebrews 6:17-19
Meditating on these verses can be a powerful source of comfort. The more we have them flooding our mind, especially at Christmas, when our emotions tend to lead us deeper into melancholy, the more God is able to impart His peace and comfort.
While studying for this talk, I was surprised by how many Christmas carols speak of sadness and despair, but also are filled with the joy, comfort and consolation that can be found in Christ. Here are a few examples, and may we sing them often throughout this season:
Comfort, Comfort Ye My People
Comfort, comfort ye My people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load;
Speak ye to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover,
And her warfare now is over
Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He will no more see nor heed.
She has suffered many a day,
Now her friends have passed away,
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever springing gladness.
“God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” contains the wonderful news of Christmas: “tidings of comfort and joy.”
The verse, “My Joy, my Exultation, my spirit’s Consolation” comes from the carol, “The Virgin Stills the Crying.”
The lyrics to “O Come O Come Emmanuel” speak about all God has given us by His coming: ransoming the captive who are mourning and lonely, freeing us from Satan’s tyranny and the depths of hell, giving us victory over the grave, cheering our spirits, dispensing our gloom, closing off the path to misery and opening wide our heavenly home. THESE are all the gifts He brings at Christmas!
If you’ve ever really listened to Handel’s “Messiah”, you know that it is taken straight out of scripture and is filled with promises from God’s Word like the following:
- Comfort ye, comfort ye my people
- Arise, shine, for thy light is come
- The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light
- I bring you tidings of great joy
- For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace
- Come unto Him all ye that labor and are heavy laden and He shall give you rest
Then there’s the wonderful carol, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”, which echoes the longing of our own hearts:
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
So if you are hurting this season, ask God to give you the grace to turn your gaze away from your pain and onto all the beauty and depth that is truly Christmas. By avoiding Christmas, we are actually missing out on being nearer the One who comes to comfort our hearts. He says that He is, “near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
My grief makes me want to avoid Christmas, but it is Christmas, the coming of Christ, that will console me in my grief.
That babe in a manger, resting beneath the shadow of the cross, is the source of our joy and reason for celebration. May we welcome Jesus, as Simeon did, and take him up in our arms and embrace Him with great affection this Christmas. And may we also allow Him to hold us in His comforting embrace throughout all the celebrations…and perhaps give us the grace to bake a few cookies for someone else who is hurting.