As we might have learned by now, there will be no end to tragic stories about sin ravaging people, or families, or even whole communities. We all suffer from broken relationships, postponed dreams, and life-changing diseases or accidents. We all experience unspeakable losses that leave us feeling devastated or abandoned by the ones we love.
We can experience disillusioning pain and disappointment, and this lesson is probably the hardest to be learned. THIS is the human condition: to be alive in such a broken world! Our bodies are the keepers of all these pains, exhibiting all of our traumas throughout life.
But as Christians love to say, “God is still good!”. This saying is filled with truth, yet it makes us rush past a moment of recognition we all need. We need to acknowledge our losses, heartbreak, and pain. We need to process it in order to experience the warmth and grace of our loving God.
We’ve all shared common stress and trauma in the last two years. We’ve watched people die and be separated from their loved ones, adapted to changes to our work lives, and battled the disorienting effects of endless isolation.
As we’re still healing from the pandemic’s darkest hours, we are learning how to rebuild the stabilizing structures we had in our lives, that are nowadays damaged or have missing bricks.
Now that Christmas has arrived, we should prepare for the “most wonderful time of the year”. But how can we heal from our wounds that won’t disappear even on Christmas break? Where is Jesus to help us deal with our persistent pain, especially in a world that pushes us to move on from suffering?
The answer comes in a name: Immanuel, or “God with us.” God sent us a child born in a manger, rather than just a distant savior who would rescue us from above.
This season, God doesn’t invite us to manufacture our joy or to avoid the pain we’ve suffered. This season, God invites us to a story that reflects the communal trauma of more present times. Jesus’ birth is the fulfillment of divine purpose, but we must remember that He is also fully human.
Our Savior sympathizes with us in any kind of suffering we might feel because He felt the same the moment He entered our world as a vulnerable baby.
Our Savior who suffered
When we think about Jesus, we might choose terms like Lord, King, and Son of God. Of course, these are all true, but there is another description that we might often forget. Jesus was also a child born into abject poverty, displaced as an infant with his refugee family.
Mary went through unimaginable stress during her pregnancy and labor, while baby Jesus was still in her womb. Jesus’ family was blended from necessity, all while enduring the dangers of existing in a land hostile to their own existence.
Jesus’ life had started in trauma, which doesn’t diminish in any way his Kingship or salvific power. On the contrary, it only enhances our ability to know and be loved by our only Savior, who joined us in the mess of our lives.
In the science of trauma, we learn that our responses can be both mental and physical. In fact, these two cannot be separated. The more we learn about Jesus’ life, the more we understand that He was an outcast.
We know that He had to face public scrutiny and condemnation. We know that He had to face rejection from His friends and even judgment from people that were in power.
Even more, His emotional anguish is detailed in the New Testament, when we can see how He coped with the pressure of His life. He escaped from all by praying.
Also, we could read more about His trauma, and see how Jesus’ physical body responded to the stress He had to put up with. In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus’ body is sweating blood.
As Dr. David Acuna, a trauma surgeon, explains, “There is a well-documented medical condition, that can make the patient who is under a tremendous amount of emotional stress, to sweat blood. The little blood vessels within the glands burst and then the blood is expressed.”
As He had the weight of the sins of the world on His shoulders, Jesus’ body started to show signs of acute stress and trauma, even before the physical torment that led to the crucifixion.
In a moment of overwhelming love that He has for us, and dedication to His Father’s will, and immense desperation to be released from the agony that followed, Jesus suffered.
He suffered in His mind, body, and spirit as He knelt and prayed in the garden. And then, He surrendered Himself to those men who would torture, humiliate, and murder Him.
As therapist Aundi Kolber explains, “from a neurobiological perspective, we understand that Jesus experienced pain that was so intense and overwhelming, that it definitely led to Him being traumatized.”
Knowing all of this, we might understand differently the phrase “God with us.” God is near to us in our PAIN, not just an empty platitude. He demonstrated through Jesus’ experiential knowledge of suffering.
Of course, just like the coziness of Christmas isn’t enough to lift us up from our sadness, neither is just a simple understanding of the gospel to make us cling to our faith. Nor the idea that one day we’re gonna go to heaven. But the experience of Jesus actually tells us that it doesn’t have to.
Truth is, nothing can demonstrate more clearly to us that God loves us truly than Jesus’ willingness to personally experience the traumas He felt in this fallen world. Christ knows what it means to suffer and can relate to those He created. The comfort He offered us, who experienced trauma, is grounded in His own experience in this world.
We must remember in this Christmas season that someday, all this pain and suffering will end. The true meaning and gift of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, stand in the hope that we are not alone, and the pain won’t be with us forever.
Jesus is by your side today. He was with you yesterday, walking on broken earth, experiencing the tremendous cruelties just as we all do. And He will be with us when the pain of the past will no longer harm us, and its memory will only unite us.
It’s important to always remember that Jesus gets it. May this Advent and Christmas season heal you, and be a time when we all remember the One who did not shy away from suffering, but entered it with all His being, so we might learn the wonders of His love. Merry Christmas!