The Christmas Story Starts with Pain
By The Rev. David DornDid you know the Christmas story as told by Luke, starts with pain… the pain of an elderly couple’s infertility? We often gloss over the intro to the Christmas story in order to get to the “good” parts, yet the way this story starts is equally beautiful and profound.
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. – Luke 1:5-7
Zechariah carried a heavy burden his entire life; a burden marked with the silent pain of infertility. How many miscarriages had he and Elizabeth suffered before they gave up? How many tears were shed in the empty rooms of a house? And how many judgmental looks did they receive from others along the way?
In 1st century Jewish culture, children were considered a mark of God’s blessing on your life. Conversely a lack of children was seen as a mark of God’s displeasure in your life. People might have wondered what Zechariah or Elizabeth had done to keep God from granting them offspring. Frankly, Zechariah and Elizabeth may have wondered that themselves.
But here is the beauty of the story… God steps into real human pain. With the words of the Angel to Zachariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.”, God sympathizes with us. Yes, the Christmas story is about a baby in a manger, but it’s also about a God who cares about the individual circumstances that dominate our lives. To miss this part of the story for the “good parts” is to miss the good parts.
I’ve been there. Right before Advent of 2014, my wife and I had just suffered our second miscarriage. With the first miscarriage we told a lot of people. With the second, we told no one. We were hurting. My sermon assignment for that week was this part of the life of Zechariah. Ironic, to say the least! As I tearfully pulled that sermon together, I discovered how incarnate God can be. God didn’t forsake Zechariah and Elizabeth and God wasn’t going to leave me and Aimee either. It was in working through Zechariah’s story, that I felt the sympathy of a God who meets me in my pain. This is a God who will meet you in yours too.
God cares about the individual, messy, painful parts of your life. He’s not forgotten you.
That Sunday giving that sermon I felt just how real God’s presence was as I declared “God wants to send someone into our situations to turn our suffering into something beautiful.”
I declared that line out of faith, because this is the nature of God. It’s the story of Christmas. It begins with pain and ends in rejoicing. Yet, if the story of Zechariah teaches us anything, it’s that our momentary suffering doesn’t have the last word when God gets involved.
Christmas passed that year and Aimee and I started off 2015 with a visit to a fertility specialist. He told us we had a 1 in 10 chance of conceiving without expensive treatments, and even then, our chances were limited. I’ll be honest, in that moment I went back to struggling with the peace and comfort I had received from God at Christmas a few months prior and with what I had declared in my sermon. Yet the whole purpose of celebrating Christmas every year is to be reminded that God get’s involved in our lives.
Nine months and a whole lot of prayer later, my wife texted me in-between services on another Sunday morning. It was a picture of a positive pregnancy test with a caption that said “Shh… don’t tell anyone :)” Little Ava Grace has been the center of my universe ever since.
God gets involved in all kinds of ways, sometimes its in subtle and spiritual ways and other times, it’s a baby.
Friends, Christmas can be a tough time of the year for a lot of reasons: family dysfunction, loss of loved ones, financial problems, infertility, etc. But whatever burden you bear or pain you carry, let the fullness of the Christmas story minister to you. “Your prayer has been heard.” God is not distant from our circumstances. Far from it. God is right there in the midst of what you are going through right now. The story of Zachariah testifies to it, and the birth of God himself into a broken world ratifies it. God is with us.
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