The Lord has come to bear the grief and carry the sorrow
The December issue of National Geographic, in an article about faith, said two things about suffering that based on Steve’s sermon we can also say are prophetic. The first was that as freshly experienced pain travels up our nervous system towards our brains, our expectation of good things coming – hope – comes down from our minds and meets our impending suffering, and betters it.
The second is that when going through a painful experience with other people we suffer less than we would without them. People who were told other people underwent the same thing did better than people who thought they were going it alone.
One of the central tasks in my work as a psychologist is to help people suffer. Learning to suffer well – the way Jesus has – is one of the things that our lives pivot on. Or they don’t. Grieving loss, overcoming the fear of pain and sting of rejection, voicing the lament Steve talked about this fall, becoming long-sufferers, these bring us in line with the heart of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit. Becoming part of the kingdom coming on earth in this way is life-giving in no uncertain way. It is a key to the good life.
In reflecting on the prophecies about Christ’s coming, what better encouragement during Advent than the prophecies about Jesus coming into our lives so he could suffer. Christ came and entered into the affliction. Then he subjected himself to the entirety of our suffering. Now seated up on the mightiest throne He continues to feel what we feel and know what we know.
One of the things everyone I work with wants is the improvement of their suffering. Something else everyone wants even more, but are often too scared or beaten down or just don’t believe it’s possible, is the total redemption of suffering.
Here He is. Jesus’ Advent into the world was the end of suffering under the law and the beginning of human suffering that takes place under the shadow of the resurrection. Now we may weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn and allow the troubles in this life to move us, and even do the painful, arduous work of laying down our lives for our friends, because we know that none of this is futile. Quite the contrary.
Let us bear a prophetic witness to ourselves and our community and our world this Advent of the suffering of Christ that comes down into our lives and out of our hearts and minds to meet the pain coming up to us from sin and suffering, and resurrects it. If in fact ‘we suffer with him so we may be glorified with him’ suffering with Jesus as he suffers in this world is one of the great announcements of the Gospel. Let us bear witness too to the comfort and encouragement and power of His Body, which gives us strength and makes us to know we are not alone and that this is not in vain. Most people inside and outside church in the West just don’t know Him very well, so Advent is particularly apropos for such a time as ours. Let us in our prophetic activity this Christmas be messengers of this moment in the Gospel. Let us help each other in the experience of our troubles to see, clearly: indeed, the Lord has come.