A few years ago I was in China during the holiday season, and I saw a marquee above a shopping mall that said in English, “Lucky Christmas!” It made me laugh, and I said to my Chinese friend and translator, that’s a bad translation. If they were trying to say, “Merry Christmas!” they missed it. But in a country where superstition runs deep along with the idea of many gods who can bring luck if they are pleased, I guess this made sense.
How about us? Do we believe in the coming of Christ because of what God can do for us – bring joy, peace, happiness, love? Certainly all of those things we wish for each other at Christmas are gifts that God gives. We are not wrong to desire them. But when we really think about it, the coming of Jesus brings us a picture of not just joy, but of deep suffering. From the beginning, Mary and Joseph suffered the disdain of their Jewish community because of a pregnancy out of wedlock. They were forced to leave home to register for the census and are denied any kind of a real bed in Bethlehem. After Jesus’ birth, they fled to Egypt and a strange culture, and on and on. The biblical accounts of Jesus life are filled with rejection and suffering from day one. Add to that the fact that during his ministry Jesus tells his followers, including us, that to participate in the life that he offers, we must participate in that suffering. Advent and Christmas are signposts to suffering. The suffering of Jesus led to the cross and the temporary stay in the tomb. But of course, we see advent suffering through the lense of Easter – and that is what brings joy and hope! In our suffering we know we also share in the new life that burst forth from the tomb.
It has nothing to do with luck. It has everything to do with ordering our lives and our worship to reflect not only the promise and hope that is ours because of Christmas, but also the willingness to participate in Christ’s sufferings as we work toward the final advent – the final coming together of all that is God’s.
A new song by Laurie Gauger and Grace Henning says this so well.
"What grace is this! Once wrapped in cloths
and gently laid in manger-trough,
he's taken, dead, from wretched cross
and wrapped again for me.
What grace is this? How can it be?
He wears this raw humility
to lift me to eternity
Such grace - sweet grace - for me."
(LUYH #163, © 2005 Laurie F. Gauger, G.A. Henning, admin. Faith Alive Christian Resources)