What I know of Christmas today is certainly different than what I knew as a child. Like most kids, then and now, I was really caught up in the magic of the holiday: the Christmas tree, decorations, presents, special treats, and being out of school for two whole weeks. It was a very special time of year.
As a child I was clueless about the sometimes unfortunate backstory of the magic – stress, lack of money to buy gifts (or even to eat), being alone when you’re supposed to be with family and friends, broken relationships, overindulgence in alcohol and so on. I now understand that this special time of year turns out to be the most dreaded for some.
This doesn’t have to be the case, though, even in the most dire circumstances.
A different perspective on this season has emerged for me over the years, and it continues to grow. You might think that my Christian affiliation means that I would see the mainline story of Christmas being the birth of Jesus. But really, that is only the most familiar symbol of what Christmas has to offer. The birth of Jesus is important because it’s just the start of what he came to teach and show us about how to overcome adversity in life.
“The impact of his presence on earth might best be expressed in this passage…
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)
Now, 2700 years after this promise was made, it is as relevant as the day it was offered. What do we hope for? It could be repaired relationships, finding companionship, financial needs being met, and health restored. This last one, restoring and maintaining health, is perhaps the most important. It’s been the ongoing, consistent quest of mankind throughout the ages. And, the human race has devoted untold resources to alleviating pain and suffering, and prolonging life.
Modern medicine has made tremendous advances. Yet, here too, is a backstory. Much of mankind has not found consistent, good health. Many people simply live in regions of the world where modern medicine is too expensive to deliver – they suffer simply because they are poor. And, according to many studies, too many are suffering in the wealthy regions of the world not only from an illness but also from the treatment modern medicine has provided.
Jesus’ promise and example was that we could know the truth – about God and ourselves – and the truth would set us free. Certainly, this included freedom from mental and physical illness, broken relationships, financial lack, and any lifestyle choices that would lead to unhealthy outcomes. Why? Because he experienced himself, or through those who came to him, every type of temptation, illness or terrible human condition – and he healed every one of them. He also told us we could do this too.
An experience I had 10 years ago at Christmas time is a clear reminder of the power of Isaiah’s promise and Jesus’ example.
Just as I was about to retire from a 30 year career in law enforcement, I began to experience frightening symptoms that I feared was prostate cancer. As I struggled with fear of the potential outcome, I pondered deeply the promise of Isaiah and the teachings of Jesus. I knew in my heart that what Jesus taught and practiced was true. It made sense to me that it had to be. He healed and taught his disciples to heal. But this was true for me too. Christian theologian and healer, Mary Baker Eddy, put it this way:
Jesus’ promise is perpetual. … The purpose of his great life-work extends through time and includes universal humanity. Its Principle is infinite, reaching beyond the pale of a single period or of a limited following.
From this standpoint I pondered Jesus’s teaching and works, and the truth about God and myself – that God did not intend for me to be ill or to suffer. As I held this course over the next couple of months the symptoms disappeared and never returned.
The backstory of Christmas doesn’t need to be stress, hopelessness, illness or despair. It can be the fulfillment of the promise. Health is the best gift, and we all have more resources than we know to achieve it. Better than seasonal magic is the hope that Jesus brought to us 2000 years ago. Each of us can experience the promise fulfilled.