by Michelle Eichhorn
Pause a moment and recall your fondest Christmas memories. Perhaps you remember a treasured crèche, the sweet scent of fresh-baked cookies, or the words of a joyous hymn. Christmas is a time when we fill our schedules with shopping trips, pageant practice, festive parties, and more. Serving others is also in our hearts; we pack a shoebox full of goodies for a young child in a foreign location, donate a toy to the Salvation Army, or extend a hand to those who are suffering.
Suffering and Christmas—it’s an uncomfortable and awkward combination. There are seasons in our lives when Christmas joy is replaced by overpowering and painful reminders of a lost loved one or a devastating event. Or perhaps there is financial suffering—a hardship that carries with it feelings of inadequacy and failure. It’s painful when we lack the means to purchase a simple gift for a spouse or child, or having to decline invitations to gatherings because there isn’t money to contribute for food or gifts. It’s disheartening when we feel like a “black cloud” because we can’t get through a line of Silent Night without uncontrollable sobs.
When we are suffering at Christmas rather than rejoicing, we experience feelings of despondency and loneliness; where there should be feelings of hope there is embarrassment. How can we possibly open our hearts to the peace Christ’s life and death brings us, when our hearts are suffering right NOW?
In Romans, Paul wrote “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulations worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:3-5 KJV) Paul is directing us to take the trials we have experienced, the pain they have brought to us, and rejoice in them. It’s not merely enough to put up with the difficulty in our lives, but Paul directs us to embrace it.
In his letter James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” James 1:2 (NIV, 1984). Find joy in our suffering? How? Sometimes it’s easier to give in to the pain, anger, or despondency, rather than appreciating what God is doing with this suffering and trusting that He has good plans for us.
The story of Mary and Joseph is a beautiful example of choosing to trust in God’s perfect plan over shame, self-pity, and suffering. Joseph, a builder and a laborer, was a respected member of their village. In those days, marriages were arranged, and he found himself betrothed to Mary who became pregnant. Imagine what he felt when he first heard the news. This circumstance brought a woman public scorn and shame. He was confused and wanted out of the situation when the angel appeared to him. It then became time for Joseph to replace self-pity and fear with faith and trust in God. It was truly a test of endurance to stay with Mary and follow what God was doing with this trial.
Mary, the member of a Jewish peasant family, probably spent her days in the fields or at the well scrubbing clothes or cooking over a fire. Not an easy life. She finds herself pregnant. Picture her facing glances from those in her village. Mary completely trusting His proclamation that the baby she was carrying was the Son of God. Through her pregnancy, she continued life as normal—cooking, cleaning, spinning, sewing, and preparing for the Savior’s birth. Her most important task, though, was to turn the stress and suffering of her situation over to God–trusting exclusively in His perfect plan to see what He would do with her suffering. What amazing faith!
As Joseph and Mary were settling into their life together—trusting in God’s love and mercy and awaiting the Christ child’s birth–they faced another trial. A census was decreed, and they would have to make a 90 mile journey by foot and donkey. How physically uncomfortable it must have been to be so far along in a pregnancy and ride for days on a donkey! Joseph would have his worries too, including concerns about supplies to take, the threat of inclement weather, the possibility of trouble on the road to Bethlehem, and the ability to find accommodations should the Christ child arrive.
And out of their trials, God used the humble lives of Mary and Joseph to author the story of our greatest gift–the gift of Christ’s birth and our ultimate salvation. Mary and Joseph were challenged to find hope and trust in the eternal love of God, and they were not disappointed—“. . . And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 3:5, KJV)
If you are entering this Christmas season with a heavy heart, bitter memories, or what seems a hopeless situation, recall the trials Joseph and Mary faced and God’s amazing plan for their humble lives. He is doing the same with your trials. Our trials give us opportunities for positive things to happen in our lives – a deepening of our faith in and love for God, a stronger focus on His eternal plan and less focus on the riches of this world, increased compassion toward others, and a renewed appreciation of the people in our lives and the good they bring to our lives. Stand firm and trust, as did Mary and Joseph when faced with their trials.
God has an eternal plan for us. Let’s count it all joy, focus on how our lives are enriched through His plan—even when it involves suffering, become all that God wants for us, and truly open our hearts to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Michelle Eichhorn lives in North Carolina with her husband of 25 years and their two children. They’ve homeschooled for 12 years. They praise God for the grace, compassion, and blessings gained living out God’s plan for their lives. Michelle is the Director of Marketing for Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc.