In Hamlet Shakespeare writes: “When sorrows come- they come not single spies- but in battalions.” He might well have added “especially at Christmas”! Christmas intensifies the impact of our adversities, much like a magnifying glass igniting a leaf by concentrating the sun’s rays on a vulnerable spot. Bombarded by messages of ‘peace’ and ‘joy’, there is a profound disconnect between what we are experiencing and what we’d like to be feeling.
It’s easy to focus on the joyous events surrounding Jesus’ birth, but the trials of Mary and Joseph are worth recalling.
Mary was well aware that her pregnancy ran counter to the strict societal norms of premarital engagement, yet she ultimately responded to the angel Gabriel that she was the Lord’s servant and willingly accepted God’s blessing of motherhood. Joseph surely was troubled by this news as well, so much so that the angel told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Even after Jesus’ birth, the conniving King Herod stood ready to take Jesus’ life.
Their responses to adversity reflect the words of James 1:2- “Consider it pure joy,my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds.” Spiritual wisdom enables a Christian to understand that the end result of spiritual growth is joy.
Etty Hillesum was a Jewish woman living in Amsterdam who wrote about peace during a very turbulent time in her life. Commenting in her diary on Matthew 6:34, she said that “we must not allow ourselves to become infested with thousands of petty fears and worries, so many motions of no confidence in God…Ultimately, we have just one moral duty, to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves…and to reflect it towards others.” Fourteen months after writing this, choosing to share the fate of her people rather than going into hiding, Etty perished at Auschwitz before her 30th birthday. As we allow God to make our rough places plain, true peace and joy can be ours. May God continue to bless and encourage you on your journey!