Christmas is a difficult time for many people. Just in my small sphere, I am aware of several families struggling through change, confusion, grief, loss. For some, Christmas will be different this year. It may never be the way it once was. I think of my friends who recently lost their father. Another friend praying her husband will stay, and not walk out on her and their children. My friend whose heart aches for the granddaughter who has wandered far from home. The family member lost in addiction. My own sadness in knowing my son will spend this Christmas, and the next several, behind bars. It is difficult to rise to the spirit of Christmas when weighed down in such heaviness.
But what is Christmas, actually? It is more than the holly jolly, sugar-plum triviality. I’ve been pondering the question this season, as I wrestle with my own unfulfilled longings for Christmas to come – truly, deeply, inside my own heart. I long for Christmas to come to all whom I love and hold dear.
The other day I asked friends to pray for me. I was choking on anxiety at not hearing from my son in over a week, since he was moved to another cell block. It is inexplicable to me how I can be fine for weeks, and then suddenly, I am not. Panic and fear seize my heart, and the peace I had evaporates like a mist. Poof. Gone. This is somewhat puzzling to me. My friend calls the peace “the grace bubble”. It is those times of ease, rest, trust. All is well. Until, “Pop!” The bubble bursts, and it is hard to breathe, much less function. The anxiety was crippling me on this day, which is what led me to ask for prayer (which helped by the way, on some days we just cannot do it alone!).
I continued to talk to God about this sudden panic attack, even after I started feeling better. Then I “heard” in my mind, “It was good for me to be afflicted” (Psalm 119:71). I felt the Holy Spirit had brought this to mind to encourage me to trust Him in what He was doing in me right now. To know that these times outside of the grace bubble were ordained by Him for good.
This reminded me of something Oswald Chambers says in My Utmost , “Just as our Lord came into human history from outside it, He must also come into me from outside. Have I allowed my personal human life to become a “Bethlehem” for the Son of God?” I believe it is in these times spent outside the grace bubble, when the Lord allows these troubling thoughts and fears to disturb our peace, that our Bethlehem is being formed in us.
It helped me to think of Mary, the Lord’s mother. When the angel came to her from the outside and announced that she would be with child, and this child would be called the Son of God, Mary did not falter, or push back. Mary did not go to Bethlehem kicking and screaming. “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38), she answered – at great personal cost to herself. I imagine her anxiety level must have been rather high in considering how others would view her. What would Joseph say? Would he still marry her? She let all of her concerns rest with God, and bore the burden given to her; the child growing in her womb. She made the steep, arduous journey to Bethlehem, where she found no room for her or the child. She gave birth in a lonely stable, in great uncertainty and travail. She made her body a Bethlehem for the Son of God, and because she did, Christmas was born to all of us.
But have we realized His birth in us? Perhaps we are still experiencing the labor pains of our Bethlehem.
God gives each his own burdens to bear, in the hope that we will respond like Mary. That we will make our hearts a Bethlehem for the Son of God. How will we respond? Will we resent these God-given longings, or bear them, believing in the good He is working out through them.
“When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4).
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
My sharp, sudden pains this week over my son are a type of laboring. I desire so strongly for his welfare, and for all those I am burdened over this Christmas. Deferred hope has stirred a God-given heartsickness. I writhe in the pain, agonize in prayer, my longings bathed in tears. Bethlehem is a place of distress because “the baby” is coming. The baby must come. The Lord Himself has made me pregnant with this desire, to see my loved ones born in Him. For Christmas to truly come.
“Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light, The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight” – O Little Town of Bethlehem
Blessed is she who believes what the Lord has said (Luke 1:45). Blessed is the fruit born of such long-suffering love.