Christmas on a Bed of Pain

merry christmas.jpg

“It is nearly Christmastime. We don’t usually think of suffering during this glad season if we can help it. “It’s Jesus’ birthday!” we tell tiny tots, and we set about making cookies and gifts and trimming the house and the tree.

The very joyfulness of Christmas makes it especially hard for those who suffer. Jesus’ birthday, the Feast of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh—the happy morning when the myths about gods coming to earth in the form of men actually came true. This was “glorious news of great joy,” not only for poor shepherds but also for all people. Can it be joy for someone two thousand years later who is nailed to a bed by pain, or who has lost something most precious, or who has been humiliated to the very dust?

Perhaps it can if we think of what that glorious news entailed for the baby Himself. Richard Crashaw (1613-1649) described it far more beautifully than I can:

That the Great Angel-blinding Light should shrink
His blaze to shine in a poor Shepherd’s eye;
That the unmeasured God so low should sinke,
As Pris’ner in a few poor rags to lye;
That from his Mother’s Breast he milk should drinke,
Who feeds with Nectar Heaven’s faire family,
That a vile Manger his low Bed should prove
Who in a Throne of stars thunders above;
That He whom the Sun serves, should faintly peepe
Through clouds of Infant Flesh! That He, the old
Eternall Word should be a Child, and weepe;
That He who made the fire, should fear the cold,
That Heaven’s high Majesty His Court should keepe
In a clay cottage, by each blast control’d;
That Glories’ self should serve our Griefs and feares,
And free Eternity submit to years,
Let our overwhelming wonder be.

Crashaw shows us a little of the relinquishment, the limitation, the humiliation that it meant for God to become a baby.

“In Jesus we see one who for a short while was made lower than the angels, crowned now with glory and honor because he suffered death” (Hebrews 2:9).

“We are God’s heirs and Christ’s fellow-heirs, if we share his sufferings now in order to share his splendor hereafter” (Romans 8:17).

Let us measure our sufferings by the sufferings of the Son of Man. Let us think, then, of the glory and honor He received because He wailed as a newborn in the straw of a stable and was fixed with nails to a cross. Let us think of His glory and honor and remember the incredible promise that that glory will be ours too.

Ours? Yes, ours—we are fellow-heirs, if we share his sufferings. His splendor hereafter is what the sufferings are for. Let us think on these things, and have a very merry Christmas in the midst of whatever sufferings fall to us.”

© 2002 by Elisabeth Elliot Gren

offered by Anne Martin