DEFEATING THE HOLIDAY BLUES
“When Christmas Showed Up!”
There is perhaps no other time of the year when we experience the diversity of emotions that we have at Christmas. In just 10 short days we will once again celebrate Christmas and the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. 10 days. This time of year brings a lot of happiness-it’s a time to enjoy family; a time to give a meaningful gift to someone we love, it’s a time when we can’t help but think of children, the smiles on their faces, the hope in their hearts and the excitement it brings to so many people. And the money that is spent.
Wall Street, Amazon, stores across the country, even the President will measure the progress of our country based on the amount of money we spend at this time of year. This was just released:
Fortune magazine reported that this year consumers spent a record 69 billion dollars between Thursday and Sunday----during the long Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. While I was napping from too much turkey and too many pieces of pie, some of you were spending a lot of money. But you and I both know that is not what Christmas is all about.
For many, while this time of year is meant to be a time of giving, a time of hope and joy; for many it is also a time of grief. Christmas can be:
• A time when we remember our past and perhaps Christmas was not all we hoped it would be as children.
• A time when some of us look at what others have and if we’re honest we wish we had it too.
• A time when we reflect on the past year and perhaps it just wasn’t all that we wanted it to be.
• My wife and I did that last week and I think the word we came up with to describe this past year the best was the word change. Many changes in our lives. And change can be very hard.
• And then for all too many of us there is grief. The Holiday blues set it. And we are reminded that it seems that something or really someone is missing at this time of year.
The story we just read from scripture this morning is one of the most amazing stories in all of the NT. And it teaches us some important truths about grief and how we can handle grief at this time of year. Because we are constantly hearing the words, Happy Thanksgiving! Merry Christmas!, and Happy New Year! …. Everywhere we turn someone is reminding us that we should be happy; yet many of us are experiencing a kind of grief so deep that they are having trouble experiencing the joy this time of year should bring. While everyone is telling us to be merry and happy; for those who have lost someone they have loved deeply; many are just trying to survive.
So this man named Lazarus was sick. Very sick. He was from the town of Bethany and he had two sisters, Mary and Martha. They were close friends to Jesus and on occasion when Jesus would travel through Bethany he would stay with them. You will notice inverse 3 that when the sisters sent word to Jesus their words were, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” In v. 5 it says, now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Interesting that when John writes this he uses two different words in the Greek to describe this love---the first one in v. 3 being phileo, which means to love as a friend; Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love and then he uses agape in v. 5 which is unconditional love which describes the kind of love Jesus has for us --- unconditional, full of grace, can’t earn it kind of love. The only requirement is that we accept it. Amazing.
Because that is what this passage is really about. The fact that at this time of year Christmas showed up! Jesus showed up in the flesh for you and for me AND for Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Love showed up in the flesh. And love showed up with a promise. When Jesus came into this world an angel cam to Mary and said, “Greetings, you are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” You know what Mary’s response was? Luke tells us Mary was greatly troubled at His words. “Mary, you are highly favored.” Mary was greatly troubled when she heard this. The angel had to calm her and said, “Mary do not be afraid.”
When Jesus came to his disciples He also says some words that are very difficult for them to take in and understand---He says, “this sickness will not end in death. This is happening for the glory of God. Everything would change when Christmas showed up.
An interesting thing happens here when Jesus receives the news that his good friend Lazarus was very sick. The scripture tells us in v. 6 …listen, “when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where he was two more days.”
Not the words I would have expected. I would expect to hear….”guys, I have an emergency; I need to leave right now.” OR “John, call the camel service. Get me an Uber right now.” But instead he says, “I’m going to stay here two more days. I love you so much I’m staying here two more days instead of leaving immediately. Very odd.
The disciples response is a bit of what you would expect--- “teacher if we go back to Judea, did you forget the last time we were there the last time we were there they tried to stone you!” (Read) What he was telling them is a very important truth and is one the cults of that day and today cannot accept. Here it is.
Jesus is God.
To them this was blasphemy. But it’s truth. God showed up in the flesh, in a manger. And he showed up in the flesh to Mary and Martha as well. Christmas showed up.
Jesus goes to tell them that Lazarus has fallen asleep, a term the scripture often uses to describe death but one the disciples didn’t understand at the moment. In fact, in v. 12 they tell Jesus, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” John explains in v. 13 that Jesus was speaking of Lazarus’ death but the disciples thought Jesus meant he was only resting. So in the following verse, Jesus tells them plainly, “Lazarus is dead!”
I would venture to say that all of us have heard those words at one time or another---that call in the middle of the night. You’ve suddenly lost a mother, a father, a dear friend or perhaps even one of your children. Your first reaction is one of disbelief because your mind goes into a bit of shock---and you cry out, “it can’t be true!” I just talked to them yesterday or a few hours ago and you just can’t wrap your head around it. People who have been known to be in serious car accidents and their body goes into shock. It is the body’s way of keeping them from horrific pain. There are documented cases where individuals who had both legs broken in an accident yet they were walking around when the ambulance arrived. The body is being protected from pain. And it also happens when we hear the word death. We are in shock and our hearts and our minds protect us because it’s just too much pain to absorb at one time.
Now Lazarus is gone, has died and Jesus says, “now let’s go to him.” Mary and Martha are full of faith but they are also full of disappointment. Martha and Mary both in separate places, perhaps an hour apart say the same thing, “Lord if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” It was like, Jesus where were you when we needed you? Where were you when Lazarus needed you? And Jesu saw them weeping. He was deeply moved by their emotions.
1st Truth. (1) Grief moves Jesus too. The scriptures tell us in this brief verse that He wept. Jesus was moved by their emotions and He wept. Your grief moves Jesus also. Even though He knows it’s coming; even though He is the only one who can be fully prepared when the death of a loved one happens, he is still moved to tears because He sees our grief.
2nd truth. (2) Tears are not a problem; they are actually a blessing. Grief tends to work itself out in tears. Often they come at a time we don’t expect. My wife and I saw a movie this past year; we were in recliner seats at the theatre, popcorn, chocolate, a soda and then this young man in the movie suddenly died. Very unexpectedly. We were on a date and I found myself sitting there with tears running down my face because it reminded me too much of the loss of my brother 7.5 years ago. The situation was just too similar.
That’s what grief does to us. It catches us off guard and our response if often tears. The greatest man who ever lived, the strongest emotionally was moved to tears at the death of Lazarus. We tend to look at someone at a funeral when they are weeping and we think---they’re not handling this very well—but actually they are doing exactly what they ought to be doing. Listen.
Tears are not the enemy. Tears do not reflect a lack of faith. Tears are a gift from God that washes
away the pain of our loss.
And often others will begin to weep with you. Which is exactly what Jesus did. And it can make it very difficult to understand why this time of year should be anything but just awful. Terrible. Difficult. Happy Thanksgiving! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Are you kidding? Apparently you don’t understand my grief. But in the midst of it all I want you to understand this 3rd truth.
3rd truth. (3) It is in the midst of our deepest grief and darkness that Christmas can show up. Jesus will show up and begin to poke holes in the darkness in your life and remind us of the greatest truth we find in the scripture. And we find it in v. 25 in this chapter.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” John 11:25
Death is really as the psalmist said. “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.” Just a step away. Perhaps a bit like walking through a door … from this life to the next. Why>
Because of Christmas. For God so loved the world that He gave. It’s why we give at Christmas. Because He gave fist. Giving brings happiness; it brings joy to the recipient and also to the giver. Christmas showed up and everything completely changed.
Jesus goes to the cemetery. This was not his first visit there.
• He met an unclean man there earlier, a man possessed that no one would have anything to do with. At a cemetery.
• Matthew 27 tells us that “following the resurrection of Jesus the temple veil was torn in two, the earth quaked, the rocks were split and an even greater miracle/event took place as well---the bodies of the saints were raised; came out of the graves and went into Jerusalem and appeared to many people.” Matthew 27:51-53
• And He has been there with you and me every time we are there to grieve the loss of a loved one. Every single time, Christmas show up! And He will show up again.
So when He shows up this year, regardless of the grief you may have right now, welcome Him. Because the scripture tell us to “fear not.” We have no reason to fear when Jesus is about to show up!