Christmas has come around this year and it looks nothing like any of us expected. To be honest, I completely forgot it was happening until about a week ago when I started hearing Michael Bublé on the radio again. But not even his Christmasy voice can make this December feel any more normal. In many ways, this Christmas is the big crescendo to the year 2020: lockdown, confusing regulations, isolation from loved-ones, spending and shopping cut down to a minimum, no parties, just the coronavirus.
I’m sure many of us have experienced similar times like this before. Times when what we wanted was desperately far from what we experienced. When it feels like who we are, how the world is, and what the future holds is a burden weighing down on us. I’ve certainly been in that place. And every time I've seen the load being lowered onto my shoulders, I’ve felt utterly helpless to bear it by myself. Maybe you feel like that right now. At the jolliest time of the year, maybe you feel less like singing and more like weeping.
What we’re all experiencing is the consequences of living in a broken world. The Bible shows us that this is a world corrupted by our sin. We have all rejected God, the creator and king, disobeying him and turning to do what we think is best. The good relationship we once had with God is gone, along with the blessing that flowed from it. Instead, we now all deserve punishment from him, and this world shows us that. There are diseases, there’s loneliness, there’s suffering.
But whilst this Christmas looks very different to how we all want and expect, what it points us to is exactly the same as any other year. Christmas tells us that God has made a way to fix this broken world. Jesus wasn’t just a cute baby in a manger but the Son of God, sent to deal with our sin and make a way to restore creation to how it should be. And it is to this hope, what we call the gospel, that I have clung when I've felt the burden of living in a broken world.
The gospel is the good news that God has made a way for us to enter into a relationship with him once again. Jesus grew up to eventually die and rise again in the place of those who believe in Him. Our disobedience, our sin, can be placed on Him and His obedience, His righteousness, can be counted as our own. Because of this we can be forgiven for our rebellion and can enjoy knowing God. All we have to do is put our trust in Jesus and stop looking to ourselves. When we do, we have the current joy of knowing God personally as our Father, and we have the future hope of living with Him in a world without sin. These two glorious truths are what can help us persevere when life gets tough. It isn’t about trusting in our own strength to keep going, but looking to he who gave his Son to save us.
When I was 14 years old I put my trust in this gospel. I had been privilidged to have grown up in a Christian family where I learnt about Jesus regularly. And, eventually, I saw my personal need for Him, asked God to forgive my many sins, and started to live my life for Him. But, shortly after putting my trust in Jesus, I felt the burden of living in this broken world. A classmate at school accused me of making a disrespectful comment about a family member. This accusation grew into daily harassment because of my Christian faith. At its worst, I was getting slapped in the face as my family member’s reputations were ran through the mud. It was a real low: I felt utterly alone. Doubts started flashing through my mind as I easily slipped into questioning God’s goodness. I started trying to change my circumstances by myself, thinking that if I said just the right words and showed just enough fight it would all fade away. In that kind of situation, it isn’t wrong to seek for things to change. But my endeavour to fix things showed my trust was starting to shift back towards myself. What I discovered was that I was completely helpless to fix things on my own. I just sank lower and lower into a pit of despair. But it was in this pit where God pulled my heart back to the gospel. Gradually, I saw my utter helplessness and need for God. I went back to the hope of knowing God’s provision when I couldn’t change my circumstances. In the gospel, I had a God who loved me and knew my pain. In the gospel, I had the hope of a world where relationships were perfect and hatred was gone with sin. In God’s mercy, when it all ended I was left certain that I could trust God. Life can be tough – this year has demonstrated that. But the gospel gives us a hope to hold onto as we look to God and not ourselves.
A few months after this, I once again felt this burden of living in a broken world, but this time because of my own sin. I got caught up in a relationship I knew I shouldn’t have. I started living a life I knew was wrong and disobeyed God. I made mistakes and messed-up time after time. Eventually, it all came crumbling down and everything was exposed. All my sin, everything I had done wrong was laid out for people to see. I was embarrassed and hurt; what I did had painful consequences for myself and other people. I was left with the decision to either trust myself and fix it in my own strength, or trust God and his grace, turning back to the gospel. The latter choice was the harder one as it meant admitting my weakness and humbly seeking forgiveness. But, mercifully, the Lord quickly opened my eyes and I saw my need for him. Yes, I had failed to live his way, but the gospel was where my failure was dealt with. My relationship with God, my ability to trust him and his goodness to me, was not based on how good I was but the cross where Christ bled and died for me. How sweet that truth was when I felt the burden of sin.
These are two examples of how God has demonstrated my need for Him and the gospel when what I wanted was desperately far from what I experienced. When I felt completely alone, I learned to look away from myself and to the gospel, to the hope of a God who provides for me in my suffering. When I messed up and felt ashamed, I learned to look away from my inadequacy and to Jesus, who dealt with my sin and made me right before God – something I could never do. I am not unique in my need for Jesus. We have all disobeyed God, and none of us can do anything by ourselves to fix this. But in the gospel there is a sure and certain hope to be found, one we can cling onto when we feel at our weakest. During a Christmas time that feels so far from what we wanted, turn to the one who its all about and cling to his death and resurrection.
P.S. If you want to find out more, check out the Unwrapping Christmas series of posts, which look at why thinking about the true meaning of Christmas is more important than ever.
- Sam McQuaker, Ministry Trainee