Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Merry and Bright. Warm Wishes. Common and comforting greetings for the beautiful cards that line our mailboxes and homes with joy.
We wish you a Cruciform Christmas. Now, that’s one phrase we won’t find written on our holiday well wishes. And understandably so, as cruciform is not a cheery, light word. Cruciform means to be shaped like the cross, fashioned after the manner of a cross.
Many that I know and love are experiencing cruciform Christmases this year in one way or another. A stocking representing a child who died entirely too soon. A stay in the hospital with a sick loved one. The hauntingly empty house and the pit in the stomach that come from facing a first holiday without a loved one. These are the more obvious occasions of a Cruciform Christmas. The less obvious occasions include deep battles with depression that don’t follow the holiday calendar, children who are suffering from mental illnesses, a marriage that is more uphill than down and and even just the run-of-the-mill “All-this-stuff-doesn’t-satisfy-the-deepest-desires-in-me” feelings.
While we would never wish someone a Cruciform Christmas, the reality is that Christmas seasons mingled with pain and weakness and grief and loneliness are actually much closer to the true spirit of Christmas. Cruciform Christmases detach our hearts from the tinsel and the tunes and force us to place our heavy longings and needs and burdens close to the manger where Christ was born to transform the pain of a broken world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who spent a Cruciform Christmas in jail for bogus charges, wrote the following letter to his parents from behind bars:
“That misery, suffering, poverty, loneliness, helplessness and guilt mean something quite different in the eyes of God from what they mean in the judgment of man, that God will approach where men turn away, that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn – these are things that a prisoner can understand better than other people; for him they really are glad tidings, and that faith gives him part in the communion of saints, a Christian fellowship breaking the bounds of time and space and reducing the months of confinement here to insignificance.”
In another letter to a dear friend written during his Cruciform Christmas, we catch a hint of what allowed him to fight for joy in the midst of his season of pain.
“Of course, not everything that happens is simply, ‘God’s will;’ yet in the last resort, nothing happens ‘without God’s will (Matthew 10:29). i.e.. through every event, however untoward, there is access to God.”
Bonhoeffer was able to fight for joy in the midst of his Cruciform Christmas because he sought to find the places and spaces of access to God though the pain and disappointment.
Access to God. Sometimes the access and alley ways to God look like open roads through rolling, snow-covered hills. Sometimes the access ways look and feel more like descending into what feels like a sewer or a scary basement. The key is that on the other end of the path is more of God, more Christlikeness, more dependence upon and intimacy with the Christ who made Christmas.
A.W. Tozer captures the surprising gift that is access to God through pain in the following excerpt from his That Incredible Christian.
“Slowly you will discover God’s love in your suffering. Your heart will begin to approve of the whole thing. You will learn for yourself what all the schools in the world could not teach you – the healing action of faith without supporting pleasure… And you will learn that sometimes pain can do what even joy cannot, such as exposing the vanity of earth’s trifles and filling your heart with longing for the peace of heaven.”
Amidst the candy canes and the caroling, I pray that we would lean into the parts of our Christmases that are being hammered into the shape of the Cross. I pray that we would offer compassion to and prayers for those around us who are experiencing Cruciform Christmases.
After all, Christ really is the gift of all eternity. In our pain and suffering, exhaustion and emptiness, our hearts are primed to receive Him in profound, yet uncomfortable ways.
In light of these eternal truths and the eternal rewards offered to those who suffer patiently with and for Christ, I wish you a very Cruciform Christmas.