“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Last month, I shared that Thanksgiving was a difficult time for me to embrace the spirit of gratitude. I alluded to some health problems that my father-in-law, Gary, was going through. What I didn’t tell you was that he had been admitted to the ER after experiencing stomach pain and was later diagnosed with cancer and given four to six months to live. After spending a good Thanksgiving with him, we didn’t realize that that would be the last time he would leave his room, as he came to have too much pain to get out of bed. Soon we would be told he had just days to live, and he fell in and out of consciousness as we digested this new and terrible news.
On the fourth day of Advent, I was at Gary’s bedside reminding him that, as a follower of Christ, he had real hope. Miraculously, he stayed conscious for a full thirty minutes with me, my wife, and her sister as we shared stories, read scriptures, and offered prayers inviting the Good Shepherd Jesus to carry him home. He nodded in agreement and acceptance as tears ran down our faces. He passed away the next morning with his daughters at his side.
The pain and trauma of this world are not unfamiliar to the Christmas story. The original Christmas story was full of darkness, uncertainty, and everyday pain. A poor, unwed, pregnant teen was making a difficult journey with less-than-proper accommodations for the upcoming birth of this unexpected child. She had likely been ostracized for her questionable circumstances in her small village of Nazareth, and the oppression of the Roman authorities was a daily reminder of her people’s powerlessness. King Herod was a madman who killed his own family members and would send a death squad to Bethlehem following Jesus’s birth. Baby Jesus was entering a battle zone full of oppression, sickness, and death—not a world filled with mistletoe, gingerbread houses, and holiday parties. Jesus came, in the midst of all this, to eradicate death, free the oppressed, and fill us with unspeakable joy. This is the fullness of what it means to “save his people from their sins.”
This Christmas hope becomes more poignant in the presence of someone facing their last hours on this earth. We long even more for a world rescued by Jesus—one that has done away with tears, sickness, and death. We ache for more confidence that Jesus really is preparing a home in heaven for those he has saved. We yearn for the Shepherd to walk with us in this dark valley until God’s light of hope can break through.
On this Christmas Eve Sunday, I pray you will find hope in this Christmas story. Jesus came to save us from our sins, free the oppressed, heal the sick, and offer the good news of himself. This is the Christmas hope that I want to embrace deeply as I sip my apple cider and hum my favorite Christmas tunes. Gary and every other person who has received the salvation of Jesus really are in the everlasting arms of their Savior. Jesus really is with all of us who mourn, as we long for this salvation to be fully known. On this last day of Advent, we long for the Christ who will come in glory when he comes again.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How has this Advent season been a challenging time for you or your loved ones? Have you experienced the embrace of the Shepherd Jesus even as you focused on the coming of the baby Jesus this Advent?
What does the Bible mean when it says that Jesus came to save us? In addition to eternal life in God’s presence, what does salvation mean for the communities, neighborhoods, and cities we live in?
Do you know someone you will be with tomorrow who needs to hear this Christmas offer of salvation?
Father, thank you for sending your Son to save us from our sins, from the curse of death, from the chains that oppress us, and from our own weariness in a world that is often so full of darkness. Shine your light in our dark valleys and carry us as you shepherd us in this season. As we anticipate your glorious birth on Christmas day, fill us with joy because the Christmas story is true. You really have made a way back home, where one day all of your children will be united in the presence of your glory. Until that glorious second Advent, may your Spirit fill us with power, wisdom, and love to share Christmas hope every day of the year. Thank you for carrying us this Advent with great hope in Immanuel, God with us! Amen.