I didn’t go to church often as a child. And when I did, I was embarrassed about my lack of knowledge. I recall one occasion when a woman asked all the children to recite a Bible verse. Most of them said, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). I listened hard as they rattled it off, one after another, and I couldn’t understand what they said. Jesus whelp or Jesus well or Jesus’ welt? If I mumbled it fast enough, maybe they wouldn’t notice my ignorance.
I don’t know what I said on my turn, but someone shared later that kids liked the verse because it was the shortest in the Bible. For years that’s all I ever thought about the verse. But now, in my thirties, those two words carry greater significance. At a time when stoicism can be an unspoken virtue in many Christian circles, I need to know the God who saved me wept with those he loved and was not considered less faithful for it.
Jesus’ example teaches us there’s room for emotions in the life of faith. And during the time of the year when many often feel pressure to be happy, it’s critical for the hurting to know that as we honor the coming of Christ, there is room (at the inn) for our grief.
Christmas is, after all, the celebration of holy expectation. If there is such a thing as holiday spirit, biblically speaking, it’s a spirit of white-knuckled hope in the face of trouble, a spirit of joy and peace in the midst of great turmoil, a flicker of light gleaming in the dark.
JESUS WEEPS WITH US IN OUR GRIEVING
When their brother fell ill, Mary and Martha knew who to call. Their messengers told Jesus, “He whom you love is ill.” Within two days, Lazarus died. And Jesus arrived at the scene too late. At least Mary and Martha thought so (John 11:1–37).
“If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha said (v. 21). We don’t know what she felt as she talked with her Lord, but she did express faith in the coming resurrection for all who believe. Jesus comforted her with more good news: “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23). She just didn’t know he meant that day.
Mary said the same thing: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 32). But Mary’s grief drove her to fall at Jesus’ feet. And after she got out the same words her sister had spoken, that was it. She could say nothing more. But Jesus responded differently: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see’” (vv. 33–34). And before he could do so, there is that verse I learned so long ago: “Jesus wept” (v. 35). Tears fell from his eyes and cries escaped his mouth. Even though he knew what he planned to do in order to display his glory, he was still overtaken by grief.
Jesus wept. And he didn’t shame Mary for her grief. He doesn’t rebuke her for a lack of faith. He understood and sympathized. Some would say he entered into it. Imagine it all from Mary’s eyes. Her Lord wept with her. Her pain mattered to him.
The Lord was with her. She and her family mattered to him.
We matter to him too.
JESUS DRAWS US CLOSE IN OUR GRIEVING
But at our worst, we push God away because we think he expects more of us than we are able to give. May we let verses like Psalm 34:18 assure us that God desires closeness when we are hurting: "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted." He wants to draw us near—on a personal level by the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, and on a corporate level through the family of God, the church.
Knowing the Lord is near to us in our pain, we can talk to him plainly about the things swirling in our minds. In the case of Mary and Martha, they needed to tell Jesus how they felt about his delay. We may need to talk to him about our loss, our loneliness, our lack. In John 16:7, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Helper. Other translations state Comforter, Counselor, or Advocate. As we pour out our hearts to him in prayer, the Holy Spirit meets us there with comfort, counsel, advocacy, and strong help.
As children of God, we’re called to imitate him in his love, treating each other the way he treats us, which means sufferers should feel welcome in our holiday festivities. Welcome to attend and welcome to display their grief, welcome to sing through tears and welcome to receive comfort. May no one get the impression that they must have it all together to rejoice in the God of hope.
THE GLORY OF WORSHIPFUL GRIEVING
Our grieving sisters and brothers know better than we do what the coming of the Messiah means to a waiting, hurting, burdened people. We would not rejoice in a Savior if we didn’t need saving. We wouldn’t exalt him as Redeemer if we weren’t hoping he would make all terrible things new. Our pain undergirds our worship. If Christ had never come, our grieving would be without hope. Because he did, even in grieving, our hope abounds.
Christmas will be a time for weeping for some of us this year. Instead of allowing our grief to sideline us, may it draw us closer to the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3), who brings us light and life through his evergreen presence. One day he will make all things right. Let us gather together with the sick and hurting and cry, “Come, Lord, come!”
Meet the Author
Laura Hardin resides in Landover, Maryland with her husband and four children. She enjoys coming alongside women in the good fight of faith. Connect with her through her newsletter, Things That Preach.