What to give the hurting this Christmas

Christmas is coming.

It is the season of secular celebration, a cultural focus on the commerce of gift giving and home decor, accompanied by expectations of happy family gatherings and food in abundance.

More importantly, this is the season of spiritual celebration, a deliberate and joyful focus on the coming of Christ to Bethlehem, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and the return of Christ for His people.

But we must remain aware that it is also a season that can magnify pain and loss — an empty chair, an empty bank account, an empty stomach, an empty soul. And in this season, the sting of unmet expectations can strain relationships and replace anticipation with dread.

In this season, people who are hurting struggle to celebrate at all.

For the hurting, secular celebrations and our culture’s advertising may act as painful reminders that you can’t buy hope or belonging. And spiritual celebrations that quickly cut from the cradle to the cross to the Second Coming may not seem to address the questions that linger in these days of pain and waiting.

So what can we give those who are hurting this Christmas season?

The hurting need a companion, one who stays by their side, bearing witness to their pain.

The hurting need a comforter, one who tells them the truth, one who reminds them of who they truly are, and one who finds hope in the dark places.

And the hurting need an advocate, one who pleads their case with passion and understanding, one who speaks when they cannot.

The hurting need the whole story of Jesus.

The story we most often tell at Christmas is the story of the Savior, the coming of the promised child who would die on the cross, emerge victorious from the tomb, and return one day for those who believe.

In our telling, we read the words of the angel to Joseph:

…an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew 1:20-21

Yes, hurting people need Jesus, the Savior of the world.

But when you are rooted to the present moment by pain, it is difficult to look back to the manger and the cross or to look forward to Jesus’ one day return. Often when you are hurting, when the pain is at its most intense, all you can do is look around in desperation for help.

Hurting people need the rest of the story.

They need us to keep reading in Matthew 1.

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet [Isaiah]:
See, the virgin will become pregnant
and give birth to a son,
and they will name him Immanuel,
which is translated “God is with us.”
Matthew 1:22-23

Hurting people need Immanuel. They need to know that when they are looking around for help, they will find God is with us.

Hurting people need the story of the years between the manger and the cross.

Hurting people need to know that the baby in the manger wasn’t just born to die. He was born to live as one of us, to live in the world we know, a world broken by sin.

The Savior of the world became one of us.

For thirty-three years he experienced life as we do. He understands what we are going through.

He got tired.
He experienced hunger.
He worked hard in the family business.
He celebrated special occasions.

He also experienced and witnessed the pain of living on this fallen planet.

He was misunderstood by His family.
He was grieved by death, weeping at the graveside of a friend.
He was outraged by hypocrisy and injustice.
He was betrayed by His friends, by religious leaders, and by governmental authorities.
He was beaten and tortured, though He had done nothing wrong.

And in every moment he lived on this earth, Jesus oriented His heart toward His Father and surrendered to His Father’s purposes. He invites us to do the same.

He prayed for direction.
He invited others to be His companions.
He saw the invisible.
He touched the untouchable.
He had compassion on the distressed and dejected.
He blessed the unremarkable and overlooked.
He taught the truth of God’s Kingdom.
He did only what His Father told Him to do.

Jesus lived a human life as we were designed to live it, with all its sufferings and glories. And in the face of suffering, He did not look away and He did not give in to despair. He looked for His Father. He gave His life on the cross to save us from our sins, and to make it possible to live in God’s Kingdom now and forever.

Hurting people also need the story of the years between the cross and Jesus’ return.

Hurting people need to know that though Jesus returned to heaven after His resurrection, He did not leave us alone.

He is still Immanuel, God with us.

To those who know Jesus as Savior, He has given the Holy Spirit, a Counselor and Comforter for our journey home. The Spirit is our deposit, a seal of our belonging and a promise for the future we long for with the Father.

When we are confused, the Spirit reminds us of the truth.

When we feel alone, the Spirit reminds us of who we really are, that we belong to the Father.

When we suffer, the Spirit reminds us that we suffer with Jesus, who suffered just like we do.

When we are tempted, the Spirit gives us the power to resist.

When we are weak and don’t know how to pray, the Spirit helps us, praying for us and groaning with us when we have no words.

And not only does the Spirit pray for us, Jesus is praying for us now.

Having conquered sin and death, Jesus is at the Father’s right hand, interceding for us until we’re home. He is our Advocate.

So what can we give the hurting this Christmas?

We give them the whole story of Jesus.

Jesus is the Savior of the world, the longed for Messiah, born in Bethlehem just as the prophets foretold.

And Jesus is Immanuel, God with us — now on this often painful journey home, and forever when He returns.

He is our companion, with us in every moment.

Do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you;
I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

I will be with you
when you pass through the waters,
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not overwhelm you.
You will not be scorched
when you walk through the fire,
and the flame will not burn you.
Isaiah 43:2

He provides the counsel and comfort we need.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive him because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you do know him, because he remains with you and will be in you.
John 14:16-17

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 13-4

He is our advocate at God’s right hand.

Christ Jesus is the one who died, but even more, has been raised; he also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:34-35, 37-39

He is Immanuel.

He is with us.

Nothing can separate us from His love.

Christmas is coming.

The hurting need the story of Immanuel.

Let’s be ready to tell it.

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