You probably know that this is the second day of Christmas. There are twelve total, not mainly because of the song, but because of the liturgical calendar.
Over the Christmas holiday, many of us will likely spend the holiday with friends and family celebrating around gifts, festive trees, and a feast. We’ll be reminded of the joys of being surrounded by loved ones and hopefully we’ll pause to reflect on all the many blessings in our midst—blessings coming not only on material, but also spiritual terms.
Christ-followers know that the toys and trinkets around our Christmas trees, however delightful to unwrap, pale in comparison to the gift offered to us in that tiny manger scene: the gift of God himself.
The Incarnation means so much in terms of our understanding of God’s reckless love and forgiveness. For some of us on a day like today, it’s easy to taste and see that God is good.
For others of us, believing in God’s goodness is a struggle this time of year. Like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the cry of our hearts echo: “For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men.”
The question is a fair one.
After all, where is God’s good will to men in a world as terrible as ours can often be? Where is God in times of famine and drought? Where is he in places of extreme need where poverty isn’t the exception, but the socio-economic norm? Where is he in the dark and quiet spaces of our minds when we feel lonely, fearful, and riddled with anxiety?
What Longfellow expressed over a century ago still rings true for many of us as we gather around gifts and stuffed stockings this year. We can’t seem to wrap our heads around a God that made us, loves us, came to live amongst us, and yet allows the evils we see around us to persist.
Doubting God’s goodness
This disbelief in God’s goodness is more common to the human condition than many realize. Many of us Christians go our entire lives believing that God is there but struggling to accept that he is who he says he is.
In the scriptures, we read promises of God’s faithfulness: he withholds no good thing from those who walk in his ways; that the plans he has for us are better than anything we could ask or imagine; that his love is steadfast and endures forever. All these things we know in our heads, but rarely do we allow them to sink deep down where such truths matter most.
Many of us find ourselves living in this half-truth existence for the majority of our Christian lives. We kind of ‘buy’ the reality of God’s goodness, but with great hesitancy. We’ve got one foot in and one foot out of Scripture’s promises for our lives; so, when it comes down to it, worry, fear, and anxiety tend to take over more often than not.
Doubt and disbelief on the first Christmas night
For a long time, I was taught that doubt was, well, wrong. It was sinful. And I guess it can be at times.
However, I wonder if doubt and disbelief in a good God is more a part of the Christmas story than we often recognize.
Mary was a teenage girl who likely suffered great ridicule and ostracization as a result of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Joseph was a carpenter who had his world turned upside-down by this same baby—the one who the angel said will be called ‘Immanuel’ or ‘God with us.’
But at every turn, the angels who appeared to the overwhelmed couple quieted their fears telling them not to be afraid. To the shepherds out in the fields the angel of the Lord said: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
For Mary and Joseph, this ‘good news’ didn’t look like a perfect path forward. It didn’t mean an easy, carefree life free of challenges. The questions we ask this Christmas, they probably asked a dozen or more times—and with reason!
Maybe I am wrong, but I sure bet they doubted at times.
To trust in God’s goodness, ultimately, isn’t to live a life free of struggle or strife, and to never doubt in the midst of them. Nor is it to never question his providence or wonder, like Longfellow, where peace on earth and good will to men have gone to.
Instead, to live a life in step with our good God is to recognize that the evils of this world have, ultimately, met their end in Christ; through his life and through his sacrifice, sin and death and suffering will one day be no more. The lame shall walk, the blind shall see, and the dead shall be raised—these are the promises his coming ushered in for the people of God. The redemption we see now in part, we shall one day see more fully in his coming kingdom. Longfellow was right: “The wrong shall fail” and “the right prevail” in the end.
So, doubts are not wrong, but they do give us a moment to choose faith—as Joseph and Mary did. And, that’s even in hard times.
Rather than living in a world of constant questions, we allow this tiny babe in a manger to give us the answer: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.”
Jesus is here.
God has come to us.
And he is good—so much better than we ever imagined.
Ed Stetzerholds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.
Gabriella Siefert serves as an Editorial Assistant for The Exchange. She’s a senior at Wheaton College studying Political Science, Spanish, and Biblical and Theological Studies. Outside of her work as a writer and communicator, Gabriella enjoys volunteering with Juvenile Justice Ministry.