It’s been several years now, but there was a time when I stared at the bright red poinsettias that adorned the stage and the luminescent lights that outlined an oak stained cross and asked, “What difference does the gospel make?” I had neither anticipated nor was prepared for the unraveling of trust in my marriage. It felt like someone had, without warning, yanked the rug from under my feet. I fell hard. I was angry, hurt, confused, grieved, and struggled to hope. I was desperate to know that Jesus invaded the not only the cosmos with the hope of the gospel, but also my life and my home.
When the Holidays are Hard
We often equate this holiday season with time spent with family. But some of us feel pressured to shelve somber feelings related to our families like grief, disappointment, anxiety, and fear for joy, excitement, and gratitude. Just as a department store wastes no time the day after a holiday to move outdated merchandise to the clearance aisle in the back corner, the expectation is that we need to move on and exhibit only emotions that fit the occasion. But strained relationships marked by resentment, hurt, blame, contempt, silence, and unforgiveness are only magnified against the backdrop of picturesque captions of smiling family portraits in coordinated outfits, highlighting proud moments and notable achievements from the past year.
If this is our experience, how can we reimagine the hope, joy, and awe of the Christmas story without dismissing the tension of living in the already-not-yet with ruptured and failed relationships? How can we invite the gospel to break through and transform our lives?
It’s tempting to look at a manger scene and imagine a silent night preceding a calm and peaceful first Christmas morning. However, that was far from reality. From the beginning, Jesus’ earthly life is intimately acquainted with tragedy, instability, poverty, injustice, death, and suffering.
Families left their towns and traveled to their birthplaces to comply with the census ruling. Mary and Joseph were on the road and spent the night in an ad hoc shelter where Jesus was born. Rather than returning to their home, they fled and were refugees in a foreign land because Christ’s arrival aroused a king’s pride, jealousy, and insecurity that resulted in the murder of infant boys under 2 years of age.
It is into this mess and chaos that Jesus shows up! He enters humanity to be Immanuel, God with us, to interrupt the mayhem and to reverse the curse of all things broken, severed, and marred.
In Luke 2, the angel announces to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…” (vs. 10-11).
The beginning statement, “fear not,” is a message of hope and reassurance, not a reprimand or a disregard. It communicates, “It’s going to be far better than okay because there is good news, of great joy, for all the people.” Furthermore, it bears witness to what is obvious: wide eyes, clenched jaws, open mouth, frozen stance, or curled body. It validates fear as a fitting human emotion that can be seen, named, and known. And it recognizes that fears have the potential to be merciless in its taunts, to haunt our sleep, and steal our breath. Thus, our need for assurance. “Fear not” is in fact God’s kindness.
We can dare to trust that the object of our fear will be addressed, hopefully in its removal, but even if not, it will always be accompanied by the presence of Jesus. We are not alone. We do not have to be afraid. We can live in the tension of the already-not-yet with faith, hope, and love.
Come Find Rest
Furthermore, the gospel transforms our life as we believe, receive, and respond to Jesus’ invitation to come. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Jesus initially spoke these words to an audience who were eagerly anticipating and preparing for the arrival of the Messiah who would rescue them from the subjugation of foreign government and establish a new kingdom. While Jesus had arrived in plain sight, fulfilling what was written about him in the scrolls (Matt. 11:5-6), a spiritual veil kept them from believing. They could not connect Jesus’ miracles, his teachings with divine authority, and his unprecedented statements about himself. Jesus calls his hearers to come to him so that he would reveal himself to them; and even more so to us today.
When we confess the weariness and the heavy burden of being unable to face our relational heartaches and disappointments without Christ, we are welcomed into his rest. When we utter our desire to believe that we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Ps.27:13) as well as for help for our unbelief, Jesus enters our space and reveals himself as the gentle and humble Savior and King. He says, “Come. I will.”
During that hard season in my marriage, an image came to mind, of a purse being turned upside down and shaken. Crumbled receipts, paper with scribbled grocery lists, loose change, wallet, keys, crayons, and half eaten snacks tumbled out. My life was like that purse. It felt like God in his kindness, removed unnecessary items that weighed me down and, in his goodness, returned only what I needed. He even added some other essentials.
Because of the gospel, I could image Jesus drawing near to embrace my heartache.
Because of the gospel, I could wrestle honestly with God, confess my fears, grieve for what was lost, and groan for something better, all within the boundary of his steadfast love.
Because of the gospel, I could entrust my not-yet finished story into his hands.
Fear not. Come to me. I will give you rest. Jesus’ life infusing grace gives us hope to behold the great joy and wonder of Christmas. Even when the holidays are hard.
About the Author:
Alice Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Emmaus Counseling and Consulting Services (emmausccs.com) where she offers gospel-centered therapy to the DC Metro area. She finds deep fulfillment in engaging people’s stories and bearing witness to the good work of God to redeem and restore. She is married to Sam Kim, pastor at Christ Central Presbyterian Church in Centreville, VA and they raise their two daughters.