This is a guest post written by Nancy Younan. The post was originally written just before Christmas and just after the tragic murder of a member of Nancy’s church community. Nancy works in Training and Leadership Development at the YMCA of the USA in Chicago and she is a proud member of St. Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church in Chicago as well. You can follow on twitter, @heyfancynancy. If you too are interested in guest posting on my blog, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
Hurricane Sandy, turmoil in Egypt, Newtown, CT, a murdered church member. All these tragedies and disasters are playing out and wreaking havoc on our countries, communities and hearts. The question “Why?” is ever present in our heavy hearts and troubled minds.
Why does God allow for these events to occur? Why so close to Christmas? Christmas is a time we are supposed to be joyous and celebrate his birth and coming. How does He expect us to be able to bask in the joy of His birth when we are surrounded by all of these horrendous events?
When I began to wonder why God would allow these traumatic events to happen around Christmas and dampen everyone’s spirits, I realized I had fallen into the trap of forgetting what Christmas is actually about. Distracted by the worldly aspects of Christmas, I saw these happenings detracting from the spirit of Christmas and the joy of the season. I soon realized though that I was mistaken and had just become too comfortable in going through the motions of Christmas. Not only had I become too comfortable going through the motions of Christmas, I realized that it had seeped into other parts of my life as well.
I had become too comfortable passing the homeless man in the street on my way to work every day when Christ himself was born into this world homeless; too comfortable reading bad news and shaking it off as someone else’s problem. We have become too comfortable holding grudges, judging others; the list goes on and on.
Ultimately, we have become comfortable leading lukewarm lives that are shaken when disaster strikes. Going day to day we face decisions and activities that delve us further and further into the world and at times further from God. We come to bind our emotional state to the condition of our lives here in the world, so when something goes wrong or disaster strikes, it feels as if our world is caving in on us. Christmas offers us the alternative of binding our hearts to God so that when we experience pain, we can feel hurt and sorrow without losing hope. Christmas is about the arrival of a savior who will deliver us from our suffering and misery in this world. Christmas is about the gift of hope from God to humanity.
After reflecting a bit about my frustration with the timing (not that these events are desirable at any time of the year) I realized the occurrence of these events around Christmas is probably the best way to remind us why we NEED Christmas.
When tragedies like these happen we are shaken and it reminds us of the big picture and of our real purpose and identity in Christ. After my initial frustration, I have found it to be a beautiful reminder of why Jesus had to be born. Yes, we will have pain in this life and we are to grieve and experience the human and raw emotions that come with a community being ravaged by a shooter or a church mourning with and supporting a broken family. God does not expect us to be stoic, unfeeling beings; He gave us emotions and modeled them for us as He wept at the death of Lazarus.
However, Christmas reminds us that He came to give us hope of something more, hope of unconditional love and acceptance. He came so that he could die and save us from the sin that resulted from our free will and he came to send us the Comforter. He has not left us. He has given us tools, divine tools, to use to navigate this world that we must pass through in order to be reunited in a place where all grief, sorrow and suffering have ended.
These are all things we already know but it seems as though we learn these simple yet profound truths in trying times. It is this knowledge that enables us to rise above the calamities of the world and to have deep hope and faith in our Lord.
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
For discussion: what lessons have you learned about God's timing when it comes to trials and hardships?