(Adapted from the sermon, He Comes to Bring Joy. An audio of the sermon can be found here)
I am always struck at how bossy people can be at Christmas-time: “Have a Merry Christmas!” “Happy Holidays!” I feel as if people are commanding me to be joyful just because winter is arriving.
Well… I am not quite that ‘hum-bug’ about Christmas. But there is no escaping the fact that many people have a hard time being cheerful either because very hard things are happening at the moment or the holiday season brings family together and family tensions to the surface. Just when we hear choruses of “Joy to the World” we presently feel a persistent sadness.
Jeremiah, a prophet and contributor of the writings found in the Old Testament (The Book of Jeremiah, Lamentations), even though he lived, taught and wrote thousands of years ago, knew what is was to feel anguish as we feel it. In his poetry found in Lamentations, he pours out his heart after his capitol city, Jerusalem, has been attacked and destroyed by an invading army.
He knew loneliness:
He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light....
There are certainly places in the world where Christians are persecuted and driven from their homes and they will be able to relate immediately to Jeremiah’s circumstance. However, those of us who live in religious freedom are not free from these feelings of hardship. There are times when our feelings of heartbreak drive us into isolation… and we are walking in darkness… lost. Jeremiah knew loneliness and so do we.
Jeremiah knew humiliation:
I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
Jeremiah’s country, Israel, was supposed to be “chosen” by the Lord Almighty for great things: to serve as a bright light to the world. Now, Jerusalem was a smoldering ruin… humiliated… shown to be a phony… apparently abandoned by God… right?
The pain of being exposed… of being rejected… of being “passed over”… can be unbearable. We know this kind of pain and some of you are experiencing even though its Christmas
And Jeremiah knew the bitterness of loss.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.
Undoubtedly Jeremiah lost friends and family in siege of Jerusalem. But he also felt the bitterness of the lost hope he had for his nation and people. He had given his life, fighting with but also for a people he loved. Now that dream seemed dead.
Some dismiss the Bible as an ancient book irrelevant to modern times. Does the struggle with heartbreak, the perplexing questions of suffering, and the apparent futility of living seem like an irrelevant experience to you? They are all too familiar. So perhaps these people of ancient faith may have something relevant to say to our modern experience.
What do they have to tell us? First (and this is by implication) they “say” acknowledge the present sadness. Jeremiah spends nearly 2000 words (in the English Standard Version’s translation) spilling his sadness and heartbreak before he gets to a profession of trust in God v. 21 (the famous "Great is your faithfulness... your mercies are new every morning"). There are hard things in life and its appropriate to be sad… even if it is Christmas!
“Isn’t this a contradiction? What are Christans saying to the world if we don’t smile at this time of the year?” You tell the world that you can acknowledge reality! And there is no contradiction between acknowledging our present sadness and celebrating the coming of Christ. Its because of this sadness that Christ has come!
As fantastic as it sounds, God took on flesh that He might enter into our sufferings and overcome them through his life, death and resurrection. “He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” If we can keep this line of "Joy to the World" in mind, perhaps we can get real this Christmas about our present sadness as we look to Him to replace our sadness… with joy!