A Special Introduction To An Invigorating Truth
A few data-based studies I’ve read on the prevalence of depression among the general population do not report an escalation of serious mood disorders during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Stress increases for a lot of folks during the holidays, but not necessarily depression. But among persons who were previously diagnosed with a mental illness, depression does increase during what we call “the Christmas season.”
- 24% of folks already diagnosed with a mental illness say that it is “a lot worse” during the holiday season.
- Another 40% report that episodes of depression are “somewhat worse” during the Christmas holiday.
What accounts for this greater vulnerability as Christmas approaches? Factors accounting for it include, but aren’t limited to, the following stressors and their impact on mood:
- Loneliness intensifies The emphasis on family togetherness at Christmas leaves us sad if a loved one died during the year, if there was a divorce in the family, or if we aren’t able to get with grown children or grandchildren on or close to Christmas day. Or we fondly remember what it was like when our kids were young and their joyful anticipation enhanced our own excitement. It just doesn’t feel the same anymore. Though it may not be objectively true, there is seemingly less to look forward to as the special day approaches.
- Pressure mounts We clog our schedules with more parties, social obligations, shopping sprees and travel. Despite the time off work for most folks, the busy-ness increases stress and robs us of the time we need to rest our body, mind and spirit. We’re so busy “doing” it’s difficult to revel in and appreciate the true meaning of Christmas. Rather than the birth of our Savior and its implications recharging our souls, we may welcome the regular routine after New Year’s day as a respite from the holidays.
- Unrealistic expectations TV programs, store ads, cashiers and friends we meet constantly encourage us to have a “Merry Christmas.” But reality doesn’t always live up to the hype. For example, when family members unite for a Christmas gathering from various parts of the country, unresolved relational conflicts and hard feelings caused by long-ago disagreements may create more tension than merriment. We love the people who are around the table with us during Christmas dinner, but we may view them as human porcupines whose quills, in the form of sharp words, stab us if we get too close. Psychologist Anita Sanz says, “All the increased demands on our time, energy, patience and flexibility can take a toll. People greeting each other with the expression ‘Happy Holidays!’ can even be perceived by someone with depression as a demand or an expectation they cannot meet.”
I’m definitely a person who feels more melancholy, more sadness, as Christmas approaches. Short episodes of joy generated by Christmas concerts and social gatherings are interspersed with an indefinable sense of emptiness or despair.
Years ago, when I struggled to “get in the Christmas spirit,” I read all the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth and meditated on the significance of the incarnation. I also examined selected verses outside of the four Gospels that deal with God’s plan of redemption, and when He first envisioned the birth and sacrificial death of our Savior. Then, over a period of several days, I wrote the two poems included in this post. The article and the poems that follow capture a bedrock truth that alleviated my despondency that year.
I’m not saying that meditating on the truth that I’ll explain in this post eliminated my seasonal depression for good. There’s still a dip in mood that accompanies the Christmas season. But I am saying that conscious attention to the perspective I’m going to share, and reviewing it every December, eases the burden somewhat. Keep reading, and you’ll grasp why it is so precious to me.
Even if you aren’t prone to depression, the mysterious truth I’ll explain will evoke within you gratitude for and heartfelt worship of the Lord.
A Mysterious yet Precious Truth
Can a Bible truth both humble us as well as exhilarate us?
Can a concept from God’s Word expose our finiteness and cognitive limitations, while simultaneously stirring our soul and prompting worship of God?
God’s Word offers a truth that I can’t fully fathom, yet which generates within me sincere gratitude to the Lord. This insight especially ministers to me as the Christmas season approaches each year. Meditating on this truth rescues me from my doldrums on those days when I don’t feel the Christmas spirit, when I don’t feel the cheer that’s supposed to accompany the season.
May God’s incomprehensible, funny-wonderful “Law of Provision” exert a similar effect on you.
God’s Reassuring Law of Provision
This particular insight boggles my mind, yet increases my appreciation for God’s majesty and infinite wisdom. In 2 Timothy 1:9, the Apostle Paul referred to the power of God that called us to salvation. He called it a salvation “which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (emphasis mine). The phrase “before the ages began” means “since before time began.”
Spade work on 2 Timothy 1:9 led me to Revelation 13:8, a verse that refers to the people whose names are written in the book of life, and who will worship Christ in heaven. A common translation of the verse calls Jesus the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (emphasis mine), which refers to a time “before the created order existed.” And in Jesus’ own words, those who experience salvation will inherit the kingdom prepared for them “from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
In one sense, Jesus’ birth (His incarnation), and 30 years later, His death on the cross for our sins, didn’t happen in the first century A. D. No, God’s provision for our salvation, His means of handling the sin problem in a way that would keep intact His holiness and sense of justice, as well as demonstrate His love for His creatures, occurred long before then.
He planned the means of our salvation not right before we were born, and not shortly before the virgin Mary conceived the Messiah. Somehow, in the mysterious, inexplicable mind of God, He knew that man, the apex of His creation, would sin and would need a Savior, someone who would fulfill divine law perfectly and whose righteousness would be applied to us when we put our faith in His sacrifice.
Imagine that: God planned a way for our salvation before time, as we know it, began. He gave us who know Him saving grace long before we needed it!
I still can’t comprehend it.
I Can’t Get Past the When!
Who fully grasps that God provided for our sin problem before He created the earth and human beings? Who comprehends eternity, that God never had a beginning and will never have an end? Indeed, He is, for those of us who put our faith in Christ, “Jehovah Jireh” (God our provider).
It isn’t necessary to fully understand this idea to appreciate it. In fact, if I could comprehend God and all His ways...well, He wouldn’t be God! I’m okay with this mystery. The more I ponder it, the less depressed I feel, and the more I worship God during the Christmas season.
Meditating on this truth during my devotional times each December helps to counter the inevitable increase in despondency I feel every Christmas season. Though I often don’t feel the meaning of Christmas, I keep telling myself that the truth doesn’t depend on how I feel. That Jesus was born, how He came into the world, why He died, and His resurrection are objective historical realities that don’t depend on my subjective emotional state for their existence.
Although why Jesus was born and died are more important, I can’t get past the when in relation to God’s plan of redemption. Nor do I want to get past it. Focusing on how God met my need for forgiveness before time began enhances appreciation for His provision of salvation.
I capture the when as well as the why in the two poems that follow.
In the poem titled “Before,” in the first seven of these three-line stanzas, time goes backward, from the first line to the third line, ending with the event as perceived by God the Father at some point before creation.
Before Christ flailed tiny arms and cried;
before His virgin birth was prophesied,
on a dreaded Roman cross, He died.
Before the star-gazing caravan
took gifts to this infant God-man,
a crown of thorns was the Father’s plan.
Before Herod’s soldiers would contend;
before the first man and woman sinned,
the Son had decided to condescend.
Before He labeled himself, “I AM!”
Before God spared Isaac with a ram,
Jesus was a sacrificial Lamb.
Before Jesus fought the devil and won;
before Mary conceived the Holy One,
the Father sacrificed His only Son.
Before bread and wine in the upper room;
before His body formed in Mary’s womb,
Jesus lay lifeless in a borrowed tomb.
Before Gethsemane’s heart-wrenching prayer;
before innkeepers had no room to spare,
Calvary existed. A cross was there!
Some men live without ever knowing why.
Meaning is elusive. They search and they sigh.
Not Jesus Christ. He was born to die.
The second poem intersperses references to God the Father’s plan for His Son with Joseph and Mary’s affection for their infant.
Joseph’s eyes were glued to where his infant lay;
could not hide his grin or keep his pride at bay.
He anticipated joining Jesus at play.
Another Father would turn His face away.
Mary heard his wail, saw his face turn red.
She heard him coo after he’d been fed.
Used her palm to support his fragile head.
Caressed the flesh that Roman spikes would shred.
Flailing limbs, wrinkled olive skin.
She tickled his tummy for a face-splitting grin.
Held him to her breast, one who seemed the least,
who would die on a cross to become our High Priest.
God had fulfilled His long-standing vow.
Shepherds, kings and wise men came to bow.
Saw the prophets’ promise existing in the now.
Did they see the blood trickling from his brow?
So innocent and sweet, how could he divide
nations and families? Each would choose a side.
To divine instructions Joseph had complied.
Did he know that his baby had already died?
The reason for the manger is the cross. The purpose of the first Christmas was Good Friday.
Today, through this prayer, praise God for this mysterious yet heart-warming truth concerning the timing of His plan of redemption:
Oh Father, thank You for this reassuring truth about the timing of your plan to save me. What a need-meeting God: meeting my need for a Savior even before creation! This isn’t a truth just for the Christmas season. Nonetheless, every year in December remind me of it, especially on those days when despondency or sadness try to eclipse the Son from my view. In the name of Jesus, the Light of the World who continues to penetrate my darkness, amen.
The Timing of Your Redemption
Ephesians 1:3-4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”
God’s Ultimate Provision
On the cross, the Father would forsake the Son and pour out all his wrath upon him. We cannot imagine the horror and stripping felt by the God-man Jesus Christ when his Father poured out wrath on him and forsook him. Jesus was forsaken so that we would have the assurance that we never will be. Elyse Fitzpatrick
Remember that no sin can stand before the efficacy of Christ’s blood. John Flavel
If you know a believer whose despondency, like mine, tends to spike during the holidays, share this post with him or her.