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Never a Bad Christmas

27 December 2011 by Tom Chantry

Christmas this year in the Chantry family was, shall we say, memorable. My middle son was sick early on Thursday morning, just as we were set to go to my sister’s house. He seemed well when he got up, and we decided he did not have the stomach flu. Off we headed down the road for an overnight stay - not a wise decision.

By Saturday (after our return) I was sick, as was my nephew. By Saturday night my wife, my other two sons, and my three nieces had all succumbed. My mother and brother-in-law were coming down with it on Christmas morning, and on Christmas night it made a return appearance with the middle son.

So I spent Christmas Eve, while Karen and the kids celebrated at my parent’s house, cycling between my bed and the bathroom, lost in a fever-induced haze of misery. That night I was awake from one until three-thirty going back and forth between two sick children, Karen by this point being too ill herself to help. I started doing laundry at about two. On Christmas morning, only my middle son and I were healthy enough to attend church. Being far too weak to preach, I listened as my father pinch-hit for me.

As I write it is Monday, and as a precaution we are missing the Christmas celebration at my in-law’s house. All fevers are gone, and everyone is eating, but we remain weakened. Neither my wife nor I can recall a sickness so violent in many years.

But, perhaps because it was Christmas, I didn’t ever begin to feel too sorry for myself. I tried to overcome the loneliness of Saturday by listening to as much sacred Christmas music as I could, and my thoughts ran along these headings - the sermon which the stomach flu preached to me:
“First, the curse is found at least as far as Milwaukee. This wretched stomach flu is just a part of what has happened to this sin-cursed world, and, as one of the chief propagators of that sin, you, Tom, have no reasonable complaint. Sinners like you deserve the vomiting and the incontinence, the feverish shakes and delusions, the reduction to childishness which comes of being seriously ill. Truth be told, you deserve more than twenty-four hours of illness, and if the stomach flu went on interminably it would be only the merest fraction of a just reward for your sin. But of course, God doesn’t give you what you deserve. Since you know Christ, sickness isn’t even a warning of worse to come. That is only because…

“…the Lord is come. Sickness involves a reduction of the whole person. It can be humbling in the extreme. Mind and body revert to infancy at the touch of a tiny virus. Now, contemplate the incarnation of Christ while you are in the grip of this humbling illness. No sickness could possibly have touched Him, but He voluntarily entered into our sin-weakened condition, and no doubt He did so knowing that He would eventually get the stomach flu. Every small and great consequence of the curse, every sorrow and pain which we experience, Jesus took on willingly. That is what the Baby in the manger means. That amazing scene is testimony to the fact that God’s Son said, “Yes, I will take on this indignity, and a thousand more until I am beaten and stripped and nailed to a cross to die a public death.” And He did this because of…

“…the wonders of His love. Yes, Tom, child of God, He underwent all this because He loved you. He loved you before you were born - before even He was born. He loved you before the foundation of the world, because the Father loved you, and Christ, whose love for the Father is perfect, could not do other than to love you. His love for you was so immense, so giving, so absolute, that He entered not only this world but humanity itself, with all its sorrow and misery, in order to rescue you from it. Well might you wonder! And moreover, His love was effectual, accomplishing its intended end, so that you might sing…

“…no more let sins and sorrows grow. Yes, you’re a sinner, and yes, you’re suffering, but He came to put an end to that. The arrival of the Christ-Child at Bethlehem was the beginning of the end for Satan and all of his works. Your sin has been defeated, and its consequences are running out. This sickness is like a bad snow-storm in April; it’s no fun, but neither is it a harbinger of everlasting winter. Having come to you here, Christ prepares to take you to Him there. Wonder, yes, but also rejoice. And of course…

“…let every heart prepare Him room. Perhaps the world never so fully demonstrates its self-centered ignorance as at Christmas. The obsession with gifts and parties is obvious, but even the pseudo-religious talk of “Christmas Spirit” is generally pretty selfish. “We should all treat each other better, because we are so good and so worth it,” they sing. But little is said of Him, and what is said is as often as not inaccurate and misleading. The Child in the manger didn’t come with a dream that everyone should be nice one day a year. He came to rule, and rule He will. But what about you, Tom? Are your thoughts really superior? Do you not have your own ideal of a “good Christmas?” The family will be together, the children will enjoy their gifts, health and good spirits will reign - certainly Christmas is one day you can expect this! So was this Christmas ruined? Jesus still came. He still “makes His blessings flow.” He still demonstrates “the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.” Is there room in your heart for Him, or do you need a picture-book American Family Christmas first?”
That was the message my stomach flu preached to me, and it was a good one. The conclusion was obvious: If you know the Christ-child in the manger, if you know the Redeemer He came to be, then there can never be such a thing as a bad Christmas.