Christmas is so close, friends! There’s a spirit of anticipation in the air with each day. Within our culture, we see it in Christmas lights, the gift-list-rush, and we hear it as ‘holly & jolly’ on every radio station.
But what if there’s a part of our hearts (or maybe its entirety) that feels the direct opposite? What about those who are experiencing suffering, loss, grief, hardship, brokenness, deep longings and heartache?
If you’re asking ‘What then?’ this Christmas, this story is for you… to tell you that Jesus is near to your suffering. May His name become even more meaningful to you in this season for He is God with us – who came in flesh, dwelt among us (John 1:14), and experienced every part of humanity so that He could fulfill God’s promises and that very longing of your heart today.
He made this truth extremely real to me in October. On Thanksgiving Day, our family gathered at my mom’s home. A day of gratefulness and turkey quickly went quiet when my grandmother received a call from the hospital. My Nonno had been rushed to emergency with a worsening infection. Off the bat, the prognosis wasn’t good. They said, “Can you be here soon? We’ll call if anything changes.”
And as families do, we wrapped my 86-year-old grandmother up in her coat and in prayer, and half of the house rushed out the door. I stayed back to clean but soon left to the hospital too.
Arriving at the ER felt like a scene in slow motion. How do you prepare yourself for a reality you don’t want to face? The sliding doors of his room opened and there my Nonno lay. Unconscious, struggling to breathe, and his body so unlike the beloved Nonno who raised me.
And then, we waited. Waited for results. Waited for antibiotics to work. Like time tapping its fingers right in front of us, I was reminded that this waiting had already begun a decade before.
You see, Nonno was paralyzed for 10 years from many strokes and a near-death surgery to save his artery. He deteriorated every day and in every capacity. We witnessed him lose his physical strength, his ability to eat solids or drink normally, his memory, his voice, and his will to fight. Deep down, there was always the question of ‘How long, Lord? What kind of life and suffering is this?‘
In the hospital that week, we knew the waiting was coming to an end. The antibiotics stopped working and his organs were failing. The doctors removed his IV and nutrients, and Nonno was no longer strong enough to even drink water.
His mouth was agape – wide open, dry, desperately thirsty and tired. It was so hard to see him that way without crying. And so we tracked down the nurse to give him water. What I saw next I will never ever forget.
The nurse came with a small cup of water and a cube sponge on a stick. He dipped it in the water and placed it in my Nonno’s mouth. Nonno clenched his jaw on it firmly as to get every droplet of water from it. His eyes shut tight.
I watched from the side when Jesus immediately made His nearness so clear to me. It was like on one side I saw Nonno drinking water from this sponge and on the other side was Jesus on the cross, taking his last drink from a sponge before saying, “It is finished.”
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. // John 19:28-30 (NIV)
I never knew such a painful moment could also be so hopeful. In a whisper to my soul, Jesus seemed to say:
‘This is my love for the world. I am more than near to Nonno’s suffering. This is why I came: to go before him and experience his exact pain, to live and die in his place. While Nonno is physically thirsty now, I am his Living Water that never runs dry, the only One who satisfies, and his Savior who loves him.’
Tears flooded in and the moment has remained etched in my mind but hidden in my heart since. Nonno passed away a few days later and he will be missed at home this Christmas. Yet our joy is that his home in heaven is beyond better and we’ll one day join him in the glorious presence of Jesus too.
So, I realize today that this is a message God wants to speak to someone. In your suffering this Christmas, I pray that you’ll deeply sense and know God’s close love for you that says:
‘This is my love for YOU. I am more than near to your suffering. This is why I came: to go before you and experience your exact pain, to live and die in your place. For your deepest longings and needs, I am your Living Water that never runs dry, the only One who satisfies, and your Savior who loves you.’
What hope we have this Christmas! No matter the circumstance, we can look again and rejoice in the gift of Christ – that because of God’s compassion and love for us, He sent His only Son as a baby in the midst of a broken world (John 3:16-17)… not just to be near to our every moment but to be God with us. (Isaiah 7:14)
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. // Isaiah 9:6 (NLT)