The older I get the more tempted I am to doubt. Amid the seasonal sales pitches and streets strung with light, Christmas songs about a baby born in a manger to take away the sins of the world begin to sound more like mythology than theology.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. Love the decorations and the gifts and the parties. But if the message of Christmas is real – that God became man so man could come to God – then shouldn’t we all be more excited?
It’s hard to believe, let alone celebrate, when those we love are sick or suffering. When we turn on the news and witness injustice raging, when the innocent struggle to survive.
This week I opened my mail to see a photo of a wailing two-year-old, brown skin pulled shiny-tight over tiny bones, head shaved bald, skeletal hands fiercely gripping a cup. This wasn’t a random aid group seeking donations. This was a newsletter from Welcome Home Africa, the orphanage that rescued my beloved daughter Ruth.
Beneath was a second photo of this same child years later – cheeks round, arms chubby, smile wide, joy radiating from her bright eyes. It seemed impossible that such a child should live, let alone thrive. Yet, there she was happy, healthy – one of three little girls adopted by the same American family.
“Their first year of that journey at the orphanage was very painful hard work for them both to recover them from suffering and illness,” wrote the director, Mama Mandy Sydo, thanking donors for supplying the girls’ medical care and good nutrition.
In this child’s transformation – no less a resurrection than Christ’s – I see evidence of God’s light entering our darkness. It is the same message that angels heralded on the first Christmas – that sorrow and suffering aren’t God’s plan or our destiny. They are as temporary as the dark that descends every December.
Ironically, the way from brokenness to healing, from sorrow to joy, from darkness to light often depends upon someone else’s willingness to enter that brokenness – as a family did for this child. Such generosity requires being willing to take on another’s suffering, as Christ did for us. As he grew, did the babe born in a manager also doubt God’s existence or goodness in a world of pain? I think so.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses,” Paul writes in Hebrews 4:15, “but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.”
It’s much easier to go about our seasonal merry-making without seeing the darkness that surrounds us. Perhaps what we need is not an annual holiday celebration but a rebellion. To refuse to be content while others suffer, to hold onto faith as firmly as that starving little girl held onto her cup. For don’t we all hunger for something more satisfying?
Rather than abandoning faith in the darkness, we must remember that Christ came to end the darkness, not for a night or for a season, but for eternity.