Looking for Something?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas at Job's House

Two years ago, Jon Acuff wrote a piece about the worst guy to invite to a Christmas party on his famous blog “Stuff Christians Like”. He began saying to never invite this guy,

He is even more annoying than the friend who doesn’t even own a TV and tells you that constantly when you’re not even talking about TV. (And we know you watch Hulu, or Netflix or Youtube. Quit acting like you’re a 4th century Desert Father.)

Upon entering your home, the guy who tells you Christmas is a pagan holiday will proceed to do exactly that:

“Oh, you’ve got a Christmas tree? Didn’t realize you were into celebrating the winter solstice. Interesting. Are you doing that because you’re recognizing the Egyptian tradition of decorating the house with palm branches to symbolize resurrection? Or does your family swing more Northern European? Is your Christmas tree a shout out to the Germanic god Woden? Or perhaps a Roman tribute to Bacchus? Wait, don’t tell me, don’t tell me. It’s the Greeks and Adonia, isn’t it? I felt like I was getting an ancient Greek vibe in here.
What’s that you’ve got hanging over the entryway? Mistletoe? Or as I call it, “Pagan Fertility Plant.” Babylon in the house!
And do I smell ham? Are we having a Christmas ham? That will be delicious. But then you know that is a symbol of Tammuz who was fatally wounded by the tusk of a boar. Pagans started that tradition by sacrificing a boar on this pagan holiday. What do you serve with a big plate of meat heresy? Mashed potatoes? What’s the side dish in that situation?
Red and green? Occultic colors!
Yule log? A reference to the sun god!

The worst guy to invite to a Christmas party.

And some of you are thinking of that friend we all have right now aren’t you?

I can think of the second worst guy to invite to a Christmas party.
The second worst guy would be Job, well, MAYBE the second worst is Eeyore the Donkey... but Job is a close third.

Can you imagine being one of Job’s friends at Christmas time?

You’re at the party… 
Perhaps you walk up to the table where all the finger food is...

And there he is.

“Job! How are you doing?”

I imagine his response something like,

“If only my anguish could be weighed
    and all my misery be placed on the scales!
It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas—
    no wonder my words have been impetuous.
The arrows of the Almighty are in me,
    my spirit drinks in their poison;
    God’s terrors are marshaled against me.”

Job! Sounds… disturbing… Here, take some deviled eggs, they came out really good this year. Maybe that will make you feel better?

“Does a wild donkey bray when it has grass,
    or an ox bellow when it has fodder?”

Job… I , I don’t know.

“Is tasteless food eaten without salt,”

No… It’s not, here take some salt… (I just asked how he was doing…)

“ or is there flavor in the sap of the mallow?”

What’s a mallow?!

“I refuse to touch it;
such food makes me ill.”

Now I share that as a light introduction to a more heavy topic...

So many people run around just wanting to throw Christmas Spirit into every dark corner of their lives. And sometimes… well most times, they want to throw it on others as well.

Because it’s Christmas, nothing can be sad around Christmas time!

But if you are Job at Christmas... the last thing you want is someone telling you that you need to be happy.

Job is perhaps the most synonymous person with the idea of suffering.
He is a victim of his own righteousness… much like Noah.

Both men are noted for their righteousness. The Bible speaks of both of these men that there are no other people within their generation who is like them. Noah suffered by watching the entire earth be destroyed. Job suffered by watching his entire world be destroyed. Noah’s righteousness condemned the world. Job’s righteousness condemned himself.

We know the story of Job, his reward for living a righteous life is that he has everything taken from him, his health, his wealth, his happiness, even his family is taken from him. He seems to lose everything. It’s hard to be Job, especially at Christmas time.

There’s something about Christmas that amplifies grief and loss.

For many the lights of Christmas can be blinding, the songs of Christmas can be mocking, the gatherings of Christmas can be emptying.

Christmas is really hard at Job’s house, and perhaps there are those of you that can identify in a very real way this year:

This Christmas is going to be tough for you, because it was during this year that family members finalized their divorce. This Christmas is going to be very tough because this is the first Christmas without Grandma or Grandpa.

A bad breakup.
Death of a pet.
Loss of a friend.
Financial stress.
A sickness that came out of nowhere.

We look at Job and it is hard to relate to his sufferings and loss when we have our staring us in the face... so large and so looming.

But the book of Job isn’t really about loss… it’s about the experience of loss. 
And we all from time to time can find ourselves in Job’s story. It isn’t a book about pain, it is a book about suffering and everything that comes along with it: the alienation, the anger, the questions, the bitterness, the sadness… the sometimes good, but oftentimes bad advice and empty theological sayings from friends and family.

It is a book that we search in to look for meaning in the midst of the dark cloudy days. But perhaps above all else, it is a book that frustrates our desire for an easy, concise answer to a problem that has been common to all people everywhere in all times.

For Job, after all the questions have been asked, after all the insufficient answers have been given… God answers Job from out of a storm. And God spends four entire chapters saying one thing: I am incomprehensibly great in power and purpose.

There is nothing sympathetic or pastoral about God’s reply. Job is not given answers to why he is suffering, instead he is overwhelmed with a picture of a great and transcendent God. Read Job 38-40

But what does this have to do with Christmas?

After all, Christmas didn’t exist in Job’s day. In fact Jesus wasn’t going to be coming for at least another few thousand years. What does the story of Job have to do with Christmas?

Because Christmas is really God’s answer for humanity’s cry for help.

In the midst of his suffering, Job cries out for help…
In Job chapter 9, speaking of God Job says,

“He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him,
    that we might confront each other in court.
If only there were someone to mediate between us,
    someone to bring us together,
someone to remove God’s rod from me,
    so that his terror would frighten me no more.
Then I would speak up without fear of him,
    but as it now stands with me, I cannot.

Now this doesn’t sound very hopeful. However true hope is sometimes best seen in the groans of God’s people. Paul says in Romans 8,

“we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Job feels abandoned by his creator, by the one whom he has lived for up to this point. He speaks out of a broken heart because he feels abandoned… He desires a mediator, 

“someone who would bring them together”

Job is looking for Christ.

Job is desiring someone to come and bridge the gap... not knowing that his name is Jesus and he was coming.

God seems absent, God seems remote, God seems unjust and uncaring. 

Job expresses this sentiment throughout the book.

Matthew Henry once said,

“The God of Israel, the Savior, is sometimes a God that hides Himself, but never a God that absents Himself; sometimes in the dark, but never at a distance.”

The problem is, sometimes, we can't tell the difference. We just feel abandoned by our creator.
If Job were here today, he would have a bone to pick with Matthew Henry, because he certainly felt like God just left him. But the fact is, God never was far from him. Job was crying out for someone to make God known to him. 

Job doesn’t understand God, and God certainly could not understand him.

And the cry of Job echoes throughout the Old Testament, all the way up to the cry of Jesus being born.

If only there were someone to mediate between us,
    someone to bring us together,

Do you hear the Christmas story?

Christmas is really God’s answer for humanity’s cry for help.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon
his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,

As Job continues in his discussion with his three friends, in chapter 16 he again gasps for some air even while drowning in his sorrow. Here he has even more hope in his voice as he speaks with surety:

“I have sewed sackcloth over my skin
    and buried my brow in the dust.
My face is red with weeping,
    dark shadows ring my eyes;
yet my hands have been free of violence
    and my prayer is pure.
“Earth, do not cover my blood;
    may my cry never be laid to rest!
Even now my witness is in heaven;
    my advocate is on high.
My intercessor is my friend

    as my eyes pour out tears to God;
on behalf of a man he pleads with God
    as one pleads for a friend.

Do you hear the Christmas story?
Christmas is really God’s answer for humanity’s cry for help.

This is hope above all hope, this is hope from Job’s point of view, seeing through the dark veil, he is trusting that God will provide… God surely will not abandon his people.

Job uses words like, witness, advocate, intercessor, friend…
He is crying out for a priest.

Someone who will mediate.

Church, are you crying out for a priest this Christmas?

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. –Hebrews 4:14-15

We will have to forgive Job for his seemingly unstable emotional outbursts… He is flipping back and forth between cries of agony and hope for his future. We can’t expect someone going through as much agony as Job to be the model for emotional or mental stability.

But perhaps the clearest expression of hope that Job clings to is found in chapter 19

“Oh, that my words were recorded,

that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
  How my heart yearns within me!

Do you hear the Christmas story?

What do you get a man who has nothing for Christmas?

The only thing his heart truly longs for is redemption.

Christmas at Job’s house is hard, but there is also no one who appreciates Christmas more than Job.

The one who introduced himself from the storm as the one who laid the earth’s foundation… came lying in a manger, attended by shepherds, heralded by angels.
The one who asked Job, have you ever given orders to the morning or shown the dawn it’s place… That very same one, emptied himself, taking the very nature of a servant and found himself in appearance as a man.
The one who asked Job, have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? That very same one wrapped himself in human flesh became obedient to death, a humiliating, painful death so as to pay for our sins and satisfy the wrath of God.

The angel told Joseph to name the baby Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). And in Luke 2:11 the angel announced to the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  You will never understand who Jesus is until you realize that he came to save you from our sins. This is why he lived, this is why he died, and this is why he rose from the dead. He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). And he saves all those who trust in him.

If our greatest need had been education, God would have sent a teacher.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent a banker.
If our greatest need had been advice, God would have sent a counselor.
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent an entertainer.
But since our greatest need was redemption and forgiveness, God sent a Savior, a redeemer.

The one whom Job looked at from a far… The one whom Job did not receive whilst still on earth but welcomed him from a far.

 His name is Jesus. He is Christ the Lord, the Son of God who came from heaven to earth.

A Christmas without Job, sanitized of suffering and the real life troubles we all face is really nothing more than a hollow shell. After all the very first Christmas story was accompanied by cries of anguish and pain. King Herod made sure of that. Every Christmas since has spoken words of comfort and words of Joy to the weak, the broken, the suffering, the alienated… Christmas is for all the Jobs of the world. And we aren’t all together different from him are we?

Whether you are dealing with a specific hurt or tragedy or not, we are all like Job. We all desire reconciliation, for things to be made right, we all crave justice.

N.T. Wright once said that he believed that every person has been created with a deep longing for justice… the residue left over from the Garden of Eden. We long for things to be made right, for brokenness to be renewed, for redemption. And praise be to God that the vague hope of Job has become our reality… with Christmas.

And that brings us right back to Incarnation. Who is that baby born on Christmas day? As the familiar carol puts it, “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing; haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the Son of Mary.” He is the divine Son of God from heaven who in his earthly birth took on a fully human nature. All that God is and all that man is meet in perfect union in Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully man—the God-man who came to earth to save us from our sins and gives us hope in the midst of our sufferings.

For those who face loneliness, hurt, grief, or depression during this season of the year, take comfort in this fact: God’s answer to you is not a theory or an abstract doctrine or a book to read or a seminar to attend. It’s not an answer to your “why?”. It’s not a better job, more friends, another movie to watch or another song to sing. And it’s not even the beauty of a sunrise or a sunset. God’s answer to you is wrapped up in a person—Jesus Christ. He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is the only one who will never leave you or forsake you. Loneliness and hurt can be overcome through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you know him?

Job never received the things promised. Job never got an answer as to why. Job never got filled in on the fact that he was a cosmic test between God and Satan. Job just lived faithfully.

And when Job was confronted by this great and powerful God… He worshiped. That’s all.

Because Christmas is really God’s answer for humanity’s cry for help.

All that God has to say to us can be wrapped up in one word: “Jesus.” And not just any Jesus, but only the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in the New Testament. He alone is the Lord from heaven. He alone can save us. All that God has for you and me is wrapped up in his Son. No matter what difficulties we face or the decisions we must make, in the end God leads us back to that simple one-word answer: “Jesus.”

In an interview with David Frost on PBS, Billy Graham said he hoped the last word he uttered before dying was simply this: “Jesus.” 

We can’t do any better than that.

So can we this Christmas season, say with confidence,

I know that my redeemer lives,   and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

Because Christmas is really God’s answer for humanity’s cry for help.

*(This post is adapted from a sermon by Chad Ragsdale at Ozark Christian College.)


Nathan Bryant

is a pastor living in Phoenix, AZ. As a student at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri he majored in Biblical Leadership, New Testament Studies, and Missiology. Nathan has a combined passion for unity and discipleship in the global church.

Christ's Kingdom is bigger than our causes.
Christ's Kingdom is bigger than our boundaries.

Follow him on Twitter:

Nathan's Website

No comments:

Post a Comment