It may seem somewhat maudlin to reflect on the topic of suffering on Christmas Day – a day of joyful celebration and expressions of togetherness. Christianity presses home the point that yes, suffering is real, but amidst that emotional, mental and physical turmoil, there is transcendence and an encounter with a broader reality.
The joy of Jesus’ birth is brought into sharp relief by the inevitability, and the horror, of the crucifixion. For example, in Isaiah 53:3 it was prophesied that Jesus would indeed be treated appallingly: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” One could say with validity that the shadow of the cross accompanied Jesus throughout his earthly ministry.
Jesus embraced suffering; he did not seek it out, nor did he attempt to avoid it. His life was a cogent memorial that we are all presented with myriad challenges, and that joy, and suffering, are often intertwined in the unfolding narrative of our existence. But crucially, God has the last word: suffering is transient, and through the incarnation, brought forth boldly into our consciousness by the nativity story, it is transformed. As we read in John 1:5, ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it‘.