SIR 48:1-4, 9-11
PS 80:2AC AND 3B, 15-16, 18-19
MT 17:9A, 10-13
As they were coming down from the mountain, the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” –Matthew 17:9a, 10-13
Songs such as ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ attempt to sentimentalize the Christmas season into being a syrupy, problem-free time of the year when everyone gets together (and yet there’s no quarrels or fighting that tend to occur … whenever people who are related to one another get together over holidays). That’s far from the reality for most people in world history and through time. This time of year is when for many, the reality of our separation from loved ones by estrangement, distance or death is paramount. It’s hard to be sentimental about that.
The reality of Christmas contrasts strongly with the croonings of soft-rock balladeers hawking syrupy Christmas drivel. Thank goodness! What encourages me about the reality of Jesus coming into history is that it’s thoroughly unsentimental. Today’s Advent readings reference John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus.
This person foretold to others that Christ was coming in the flesh. Jesus is not mythical, like a Greek god or goddess. “I think the evidence is just so overwhelming that Jesus existed, that it’s silly to talk about him not existing. I don’t know anyone who is a responsible historian, who is actually trained in the historical method, or anybody who is a biblical scholar who does this for a living, who gives any credence at all to any of this.” –Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill professor.
History tells us that John the Baptist would be unjustly murdered by government authorities. Jesus predicts that he too would ‘suffer at their hands.’ The apostle Paul writes – from a jail cell – to believers in Philippi that it’s been granted to them on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake (Phil 1:29). So when believers suffer, it is so that we have a taste of some of what Jesus endured for our sake in coming to earth. Since we will share in Christ’s glory (Romans 8:17), we get to share in Christ’s sufferings as well.
Sometimes this makes me wish it could be different. I wish it could just be the good stuff, but not the harder parts of life. But then again, that wouldn’t be reality. Being married to my spouse means we share in the ‘better’ as well as the ‘worse,’ and that our union is made richer by sharing both. Students labor together over a consuming project, suffering the loss of sleep and of time with friends, only to see the hard work pay off in the glory of a decent grade. Sharing in the suffering together makes the joy sweeter. It’s a fact of life as life really is.
I appreciate this because it does not attempt to explain away suffering, nor does it pretend suffering doesn’t exist. It’s not syrupy. Yet neither is it pessimistic, because the story of Scripture is that for those who believe, suffering in this life does not and will not have the last word. The way being prepared for Christ foretold of that.
Jim Roach is the Campus Minister for Reinert Hall.