Sometimes lyrics to Christmas carols get stuck in my throat. They can’t climb over the lump triggered by certain phrases. “And ye beneath life’s crushing load,” from “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” has messed me up when my life felt precisely that way. The phrase that’s torn at my heart the most though, is from “Silent Night.” I recall times when that peaceful melody carrying, “All is calm, all is bright,” was painfully opposite to my soul’s condition. Instead of harmony flying up, tears coursed down.
The first Christmas without my mother, a passionate lover of Christ and his birthday season.
The year my husband, Ken, and I left our ministry positions to follow God into the unknown financially and career-wise.
I think of friends and acquaintances who’ve experienced sorrows during the Christmas season.
How coffins lie amidst poinsettias.
How divorce papers and Christmas cards clutter the same counter.
How hospitals swirl the sounds of hissing, clicking machines with the sounds of Christmas carols.
How children’s Christmas lists are buried under stacks of bills with “Past Due,” stamped on them.
Life’s trials don’t respect Christmas. Accidents, illness, setbacks and cutbacks don’t take holiday vacation time. I want to encourage you though, not to just write the season off and call it all a loss if you’re going through a tough time. As believers, we can always find comfort and hope in our God. He uses all that stuff intended to destroy us, to purify us. The prophet Malachi calls it the refiner’s fire.
“For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross,” Malachi 3:2-3(NLT).
Studying this reminded me again of how differently God and I view problems and pain. When I’m tossing around in a washing machine of troubles, I’m more concerned about getting out than giving in to what God is doing in all of it. When fiery challenges heat up, my first reaction is to try to find a way out of the furnace instead of communing with the fourth man in the fire (Daniel 3).
Charles Spurgeon said this about this passage:
“If any of you, my hearers, are seeking the Lord at this time, I want you to understand what it means: you are seeking a fire which will test you, and consume much which has been dear to you. We are not to expect Christ to come and save us in our sins, he will come and save us from our sins; therefore, if you are enabled by faith to take Christ as a Savior, remember that you take him as the purger and the purifier, for it is from sin that he saves us.”
Christ came as a baby because it was the only way. The only way to profoundly connect with humans facing the consequences of a world tumbling down in sin. The only way to bridge an impossible gap between us and God. The only way to access the loving arms that grab us triumphantly out of sin’s grasp. The arms that carry us through our trials. The arms that will carry us to heaven.
The child in Mary’s arms became the perfect man whose bloodied arms stretched across a cross for me, for you. I cannot approach his agony and sacrifice in an ala carte manner saying, “I accept you as Savior, but not as my refining sanctifier.” I hate pain, it terrifies me. I love my Father more. He promises his presence and power as I grapple with the realities of sin’s frantic last moves against me on earth. Satan knows time is short before my perfected glory begins.
As I drifted from my Bible study into my current devotional, the same theme about God and our trials arose. In her book, “The Greatest Gift,” Ann Voskamp discusses God’s view of our sorrows and disappointments, using Joseph’s life. She highlights the verses, at the end of Genesis, when Joseph’s brothers fear he will turn on them after the death of their father, Jacob. Instead of justifiably punishing his brothers for their evil deeds Joseph says this:
“Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people,” Genesis: 50:20 (NLT).
Ann assures us that God will do for us what he did for Joseph.
“What was intended to harm, God intended all of it for good, and no matter what intends to harm you, God’s arms have you. You can never be undone. No matter what intends to harm you, God is never absent, never impotent, never distant. You can never be undone.”
Some of us are going through Joseph trials of family betrayals and dramas. Others are in Job trials facing sickness, death or financial setbacks and ruin. God will use it all, bending evil to accomplish his good.
So, let your Christmas worship be mixed with tears, but let it come forth. Sing from your heart, even if it’s only a choked whisper. God draws near. Emmanuel, God with us, no matter what.