On Tuesday, I was privileged to spend an entire afternoon and evening attending a fellow church member’s funeral. A husband, a father of eleven children, a grandfather, and a friend of many, he was a man flawed and imperfect -- saved by the grace of God in Christ alone -- and humbly and faithfully using his gifts for the strengthening of the body of Christ. It’s incredible to spend over three hours at a funeral service while family member after family member and friend after friend is sharing about, grieving, and celebrating the valleys, the mountain tops, and the heritage of a race well run.
And it’s Christmastime.
The merriment of Christmas does not gloss over the pain-filled voice of the widow crying out to her God, or the aching tears of the now fatherless. Christmas does not deny the darkness and terror and death pervading God’s good creation. Christmas is because of it… because of the suffering, the violence, the sin. Our sin.
On that very first Christmas there was emotional travail and the physical discomfort of travel and the pain of a girl in child labor and then the murder of three hundred innocent children.
To quote from The Christian Imagination, edited by Leland Ryken, “To many North Americans… Christianity seems soppy. That is because they have not seen the real goods. True Christian imaging meets violence head-on, mine and the world’s, but also God’s. The Christian imagination… must face the reality of Job’s cry, the cry of God’s crucifixion, and of our participation in it. Once this is recognized, faith becomes not only possible, but necessary; it can never again be rose-water belief in Santa Claus.”
In John 11:35, outside Lazarus’s tomb, we read, “Jesus wept.” The famous, shortest verse in the Bible and one that can be both puzzling and ambiguous. Was He weeping out of sympathy with all the present mourners? Yes, surely that, too, but (more properly translated) the Greek word would be “raged.”
In the words of B.B. Warfield: “Inextinguishable fury seizes upon him (Christ)… It is death that is the object of his wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom he has come into the world to destroy. Tears of sympathy may fill his eyes, but this is incidental. His soul is held by rage: and he advances to the tomb, in Calvin’s words… “as a champion who prepares for conflict.”…What John does for us in this particular statement is to uncover to us the heart of Jesus, as he wins for us our salvation. Not in cold unconcern, but in flaming wrath against the foe, Jesus smites in our behalf. He has not only saved us from the evils which oppress us; he has felt for and with us in our oppression, and (with those) feelings has wrought out our redemption.”
Our Warrior, our Kinsmen Redeemer, coming in the flesh, coming to give Himself over to pain and agony and death, coming and advancing on the foe in a white hot heat of passion for His chosen ones.
Fighting through the tearing thorns and waiting darkness, our Great Prince has woken His Sleeping Beauty.
Our St. George has come, tearing His bride from the ripping jaws and fiery flame of the dragon.
This is grace.
We’re warriors on the verge of battle -- taking a breath in the trenches -- and our merriment’s no gilded bauble. Joy springing from the deep laughter of God -- that deep laughter shaking the depths of the oceans and upending the world -- it’s both a weapon and an uncontainable joy.