I am struck by how difficult a year it has been for so many of my friends and family. For them, it will be a relief for this year to be over in hopes that 2010 will be a fresh new start, but first we must get through the Christmas season. How hard is that when your world has been turned upside down…to look at holiday traditions in a new and different way when all you want is for things to be the same as they have always been. My heart is breaking, even as I celebrate joyfully with my family. The pressures this year has brought for so many were weighing heavily on my heart last night at the Christmas Eve service. I thought of all the broken pieces of lives…a child or grandchild lost to death, prison, or their own troubled mind…a spouse ravaged and stolen by disease…the destruction of a home that took a life-time to build…a heart-wrenching diagnosis and the reality that comes with it…the uncertainty of sending a son or daughter to war…the loss of a job, income, or the closing of a business…the death of dreams…nests that are becoming empty…family structures that are changing for one reason or another…crushed and broken hearts, throats tight with sorrow, eyes filled with tears. It has been a tough year.
As I gratefully sat in the warm, dry church with all of my kids next to me, I pondered the lives of my hurting friends. I prayed that they would be comforted and that despite the traumas they would find peace amidst the tears. I prayed that his peace would wash us all so that the circumstances would be smaller, and God would be bigger in our lives. When the communion plate was passed, I reached to routinely take my piece of bread, but as I looked into it, I saw all the broken pieces…like mosaic tiles in jumbled mounds, each square portion a small part of the body of Christ. It occurred to me then, that the pain we suffer makes us more Christ-like than we can understand. His body was shredded, literally, to pieces. Imagine how his heart was torn, as he was utterly rejected and alone. Even the Father turned his face away. It came to me that as I take the bread, I am doing more than just eating it…I am tasting his pain. I am aligning myself with him in his heartache.
When the cup was passed a question came to my mind…How do we get grape juice? We crush the grapes, they are stomped on or squeezed until the skin is ripped and the juice flows out. That is why we use grape juice to represent the blood of Christ…he was crushed in body and spirit until his powerful blood oozed from him. Again, it is about compression and broken pieces. When I take the cup I am ingesting the sweet result of his painful death…I am dying with him so that his powerful blood can have its miraculous way in me. His death, and suffering lead me to mine. Then, as the bread and the cup work their way into my body…his body…his life begins to flow. The pain of death eases, and life begins. It is a great mystery how he uses pain to bring life and only he knows the secret…yet we all are the benefactors. His pain brings us from death to life.
In a candlelight service, one spark lights the first candle into a flame of hope. Hope for the future. Hope for new life. As each candle ignites, hope grows until all of the pieces of his body…his children…glow with his light. He is the light of our hearts. He is the light that shines in the darkness of life. He is the light. That is why the angels sang. That is why the shepherds and kings came. That is why we worship him even now, because in the midst of a year that brought unthinkable changes and hardships, we know that he is still the light of the world. Even as we look forward to the new year, we can look back and believe that communing in his suffering and death will bring us new life and that somehow all the crushed pieces of our hearts will grow to be a glorious picture of his grace. Merry Christmas! And may your new year be filled with his peace!
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive, are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Cor. 4:7-18