By Valerie Schultz
"Th e Lord is near to the brokenhearted ..." (Psalm 34:18)Christmas, as much overindulgent fun and delight as it is for children, can be a tough time of year, especially if you've recently lost someone to death, or if you've lost in love, or even if you've lost a friendship in a falling-out. If you have little money, or no job, or a home in foreclosure, or seemingly bleak prospects for the coming year, the holidays can increase the stress that already pervades your every normal waking hour. The early darkness of December days can be a cold reminder of defeat. The festive Christmas feeling in the air, the joy and laughter of others, can actually work like a depressant for someone who is already sad.
Working in a prison reminds me how hard it is for families to be apart during special holiday times, even if those incarcerated have gotten exactly what they deserve and all that. With a little compassion, it is easy to reflect that even a criminal's heart can hurt at the thought of all the life and love that he is missing on the outside. Despite the best musical efforts of Andy Williams, Christmas is not "the most wonderful time of the year" for everybody.
But Christmas is the commemoration of the Incarnation, and the message of the Incarnation is that Jesus Christ was born one of us. Fully divine, he also became fully human on that starlit night in a stable in Bethlehem, born to parents of little means and low social status. He became flesh and bone, blood and guts, dreams and disappointments, joys and sorrows, blessings and betrayals. He came to experience brokenness with us, and to be broken for our redemption.
We are taught from an early age that Jesus was like us in all things but sin. Yet he surely experienced doubt, and temptation, and weakness, and fear in the face of overwhelming odds. He surely lost heart and courage at times, or pondered his destiny, or felt world weary, just as we do. We know he lost his temper, and wept at the death of a friend, and was vexed by the blockheads of his time. Along with the small satisfactions of life, he felt loneliness, loss and pain. Jesus knew what it was like to feel broken as a human being, to feel that one has failed, to suspect that one will never be good enough, to grasp at accomplishment and miss, to fumble with one's purpose in life, to nurse a crushed spirit. He knew everything that we know.
A friend, who also happens to be a wise and warm-hearted Jesuit priest, told me recently, when I was unburdening my woes to him, that the only thing God ever promised was to be with us, no matter what. So here we are on Christmas Eve, broken, aching on the inside, perhaps frightened, but celebrating Emmanuel: God-with-us. "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted," Psalm 34 tells us, and perhaps that is never truer than in the quiet of pre-dawn Christmas, when we are closest to the incarnate Jesus. The hush of Christmas whispers to us of hope.
"This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord," the Psalmist assures us. We may suffer, but we are never left to suffer alone. We may be broken, but we are also vastly blessed. We are drawn to the mystery of the Incarnation, to the tangible mingled with the intangible, by the power of love, which is God. Because of the midnight birth of Jesus of Nazareth, human redemption is possible. Because of God-with-us, what is lost can be found. What is broken can be healed. We may indeed be sad, but in the shimmer of rejoicing over the earth, the Christmas star also shines on the brokenhearted.