Summary: Nobody wants the gift of adversity under the Christmas tree--but sometimes we get it, anyway. Question is, what do we do when we get it?
Some of you may be wondering if the preacher is one episode shy of a mini-series by preaching from Job during the Christmas season. What does a suffering man have to do with the season of good cheer?
There’s a dark side to Christmas that most of us don’t like to admit. I knew a man who shrunk from the holidays because of the painful childhood memories it dredged up. Some of you have stood by a fresh grave this year, and you are facing your first Christmas without your loved one. Many divorced parents will spend their childless holidays in tears and aching loneliness. Some of you have taken a financial hit, and Christmas turns the screws on an already-suffering checkbook.
You may be feeling like Job right now. After rustlers made off with his livestock and a cyclone blew away his children, Job hunkered in the dust and brought charges against God. In today’s text he asks the question, “Why does the Lord give life and then give troubles? Life is a gift—and yet not a gift. Death seems sweeter.”
Long ago God gave a gift to the world, but the world rejected the gift. John’s Gospel puts it this way, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (Jn 1:10-11)
The gift first appeared in swaddling cloths and was laid in a manger. Thirty-three years later, this inexpressible gift hung on God’s Christmas Tree, a cross – and died. Job was not the only Bible figure who slogged through adversity. Jesus was the Ultimate “Man of Sorrows.” His own people did not accept him, and still to this day he is scorned and ignored by millions.
Jesus, like Job, did not enjoy adversity. Yet, unlike Job, Jesus accepted the cup of suffering as God’s will, knowing that his death would bring salvation to all who would receive. Very people accept trials and tribulations as gifts. In the words of a sufferer named Carole Bonno, “People say I am different now. I am. People say I am helping others who have had a similar loss. I am. But why couldn’t I have learned these things by just reading a book?” Adversity is the gift that no one wants under the Christmas tree—yet sometimes it comes, anyway.
Suffering people often ask, “Why?” Why is God dragging me through this? Why doesn’t God end my suffering? Why does he seem so far-off and distant? Job himself lobbed these questions heavenward.
Job’s friends told him that his woes were the direct result of his sin. For them, it was cut-and dried. Granted, we can all remember a time when such-and-such problem was the product of our selfishness, greed or rebellion. Self and sin are blood brothers. In America, lots of people have a hard time equating the two. Isn’t self-reliance a cardinal virtue? Rugged individualism. Get your own. Look out for “Number One.” Yet as one observer put it, “The trouble with a self-made man is that he ends up worshipping his creator.” Sometimes adversity is due to misplaced worship – putting ultimate value in the creation instead of the Creator. You love things more than the Maker of all things. God may be shaking your world to teach you that this world is not where it’s at!
A man used to come home drunk each night. He’d fall into bed, pass out and snore like a grizzly bear in hibernation. One night, his wife got so fed up with the snoring that she took a blue ribbon out of her dresser and tied it around her husband’s nose. It worked! The man stopped snoring and the woman enjoyed her first good night’s sleep in a long time. The next morning, as the man was rousing himself, the wife demanded, “Where were you last night?” The husband stumbled over to the mirror and saw the ribbon around his nose. With bloodshot eyes he stared at his reflection and finally shrugged.
“I’m not sure,” he replied, “but wherever I was, I won first prize!”
Sometimes we get drunk on our own pride. Egoism puts us into a stupor, making us think that we’re in first place when we actually fall into last place in the eyes of God and men.
But let’s say none of this applies to you. It didn’t to Job. As far as you can tell, your suffering is not the simple repercussion of sin. You are not prideful and autonomous. You love God and you honor people. Why, then, this adversity? More importantly, what do you do with it?
The Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two characters – one for “danger” and the other for “opportunity.” Whenever we go through an ordeal, we face a crossroad. The intersection presents danger and opportunity – danger if we run from God, opportunities if we flee under his wing.