It happens every Christmas season. I anticipate a wonderful, joy filled season. I am decking the halls, attending too many parties, buying gifts, anticipating celebrations with my family. Then, like an intruder it comes. I get a call that someone has been in a terrible accident. A child has died. Someone is diagnosed with a serious illness. A family experiences heartache. A parent dies. For pastors, such emergencies seem to find us like heat seeking missiles!
Sometimes, when the news comes, we are all tempted to ask—why is this ruining my Christmas?! Whatever happened to “have a holly, jolly Christmas?”
This past Fall, I’ve made three visits to the Emergency Room, not for pastoral visitation either. I’ve made two visits as a parent and one for myself. I’m getting to know these people by name! Having a high school athlete who goes out for football and basketball, has its joys, but also its hazards—like falls, sprains and dislocations. Life has its hazards too. I was in for a bloody nose that wouldn’t stop.
The ER is a fascinating place to be. There are some hours where the traffic is slow. At other times the place is a zoo. On one occasion, there were so many people there that they put “no room in the inn” signs on the emergency bays. Okay, there were no signs, but all the bays were full, and they brought cots out for the overflow crowd like us. It was amazing. A mom brought her young boy in with unexplainable stomach pains. Some people were sick with…..who knows what. One person waiting for treatment threw up in front of us. Another guy was holding his ear, with blood everywhere. Another person had been shot. Another was involved in some kind of domestic violence.
Being a regular visitor at ER, I am now extremely thankful for the doctors and aids who work there. The ones we met were so dedicated. Even when they were shorthanded, they dutifully checked to see which people needed the most urgent care, and then eventually got to the rest of us.
When we are shopping at the malls, driving through the suburbs, or opening Christmas cards, we are tempted to think that everything in the world is basically fine. A Friday night visit to ER will quickly strip the veneer off of that view of the world. Such visits remind us that our world is badly broken. The emergency room is a fitting metaphor for life. We live in an 911 world.
You can have one of two reactions to hardship that comes at Christmas time. On the one hand, you can get angry, and think “this is ruining my Christmas….why does this have to happen to me……and where is God in all this anyway?” This is the reaction of many of us, if we are honest. Sometimes we let our anger grow into bitterness and cynicism.
But there is another, dare I say, more Christmasy way to respond to this. And by Christmasy, I don’t mean sentimental and filled with holiday cheer. Another way to respond to the mess of our broken world is to realize that this Emergency Room stuff actually confirms the message of Christmas. It confirms that the world is desperately out of joint and needs a savior. The brokenness is so bad that we cannot fix it ourselves. With all our biotech and engineering prowess, we remain helpless. We desperately need God to break in and help us in our emergency condition.
Friend, that is exactly what the Bible says happened in that first Christmas. God broke into an ER world by sending his son to save us.
The Bible says that this world’s brokenness can be traced back long ago, when humanity originally sinned against God. This sin entered our hearts and then fractured and spoiled everything. It brought forth brokenness in our relationship with God, with each other, with men and women, with nature, and even within ourselves.
It was into this kind of a world, that God entered. Long ago, God gave us the first declaration of good news in Genesis 3.15 where he promised that someday the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. That’s the Bible’s way of saying there will be a reversal of all this brokenness. It will be reversed through the coming of God’s promised messiah—the Christ.
When he was born in Bethlehem, the angel said his name will be called Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. He is Immanuel, which means—God with us. We are not alone!
If there is any time of the year where we should be honest about our troubles it is Christmas. I contend that Christmas doesn’t even make sense until we bravely face up to the fact that we live in an ER world. Only when we do, will the joyful news of God’s redemptive visit hit us like the stunning, fantastic news that it is.