There is a strain of Christianity that tells us to look at the world as a success/failure proposition. Jesus is my savior, so if I am not thriving or doing well, I must be at fault. If I just pray enough, healing will come or a new job will be mine or I’ll lose weight or stop drinking. This kind of theology is toxic, because Jesus never promised us any of those things, and faith that makes you feel like a failure because your bank account isn’t big enough or you need to take anti-depressants is not Good News for anybody.
Every year at this time, we are reminded that Jesus was born into a dangerous, scary, and broken world. The manger was not in a room at the Plaza. We have an instrument of torture – a cross – as the symbol of our faith. Christianity is not about succeeding. Faith is not about feeling good.
And yet, there is deep joy in the assurance that God came to be with us in all the messiness of our lives – kids jumping on our last nerve, scrambling to keep up appearances even when we know we are not firing on all cylinders, work that provides a paycheck but little fulfillment. Of course, there is an ongoing pandemic that disrupts everything while taking the lives of almost 800,000 of our neighbors in this country and the terrifying news of catastrophic tornadoes in the past week. And God is with us in all of that, too.
In recent weeks, I have encountered an increasing number of people struggling with mental health issues. For some, it is seasonal – the short days and long nights bring on depression. For others, it is unrelenting grief over all manner of loss. And there is chronic mental illness, from depression to schizophrenia to bipolar disorder. And the holidays often exacerbate these as, all around us, everyone is telling us how happy we should be. Ho, ho, ho, and all of that.*
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God with us.’ (Matthew 1:23)
God is with us, even now. Not one of us earned that. All we can do is receive it. It isn’t about success or failure. It is about God’s unrelenting love for each one of us. What greater gift could there be?
Advent blessings to you and yours,
*If you or someone you love needs help, I am available to talk with you, pray with you, and/or help you find the mental health resources you need. You may also find a list of resources on the Pastoral Care page of this website.