Christmas day will soon be here. For millions of Americans, Christmas brings a message of joy, hope and consolation. On Christmas day, God became man to be close to us, share our suffering and rescue us from sin. This year, that message couldn’t come soon enough.
2020 has been hard on all of us, and Americans are struggling to feel hopeful about the future. The statistics speak for themselves. Since 2001, Gallup has put out a November survey of Americans’ mental health. This November, Americans rated their mental and emotional well-being at the lowest levels ever recorded in this survey’s two decades of polling.
Gallup is not alone in this finding. Mental Health America reports that America’s mental health has worsened throughout 2020 while the pandemic took its course. Some of the data is truly heartbreaking; in September, for example, over half of youth aged 11-17 screened by Mental Health America said they thought about suicide or self-harm either more than half of the week or almost every day.
There’s no getting around it. The pandemic has thrust America into what can only be described as a national mental health crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has threatened our physical health. That much is plain. But it has done more than merely physical harm; the pandemic has also attacked our minds and hearts, leaving emotional devastation and mental illness in its wake.
As a pastor, my heart goes out to everyone suffering from mental illness, despair, sadness and emotional pain this year. Yet, I know that the darkness of mental illness does not have the final word on our lives. God did not become a man to leave us to suffer alone; He came down from heaven to fill our hearts with the joy and peace of salvation.
Christmas tells a truly wonderful story. God had long established a covenant with His people to conduct them into a salvation beyond their comprehension and expectation. But He was not content to give them heaven; He wanted to be the one to guide them, step by step, into their eternal home. He wanted to be by their side along their way.
And when He chose, in the fullness of time, to join us here on earth, He didn’t come with great fanfare and loftiness. He didn’t come as a king demanding honor and submission. He came as a small, vulnerable child – a little baby boy. He wanted to say and to show that no aspect of life, not even the smallest pain or tiniest weakness, would escape His care. As the child Jesus, God would grow up among us so as to more fully live with and for us.
What greater consolation is there than this? That God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, has lived a human life, knows all our hardship and loves us with a personal love beyond all limitations?
When we are in the throes of despair or sadness, our life’s goals and aspirations feel too far away. We lose faith that we can be happy because we can’t see a way forward. If I have to be strong, good, accomplished and secure to be happy, how can I find my happiness while I am sick, suffering, impoverished, alone or weak? We become hopeless because we doubt that the good life we all desire will ever be ours.
But Christmas puts the lie to this line of thinking. God is the source of our truest joy and the only one who can make us truly happy. And yet He isn’t somewhere out there, waiting for us to get our lives together before He will deign to reward us with happiness for a job well done. On the contrary, God is with us, right here and right now. He became incarnate so that He could share our every experience with us. He is neither far away nor distant. He is among us.
Christmas tells the most beautiful story ever told. It’s the story of overwhelming love, infinite kindness and unsurpassable humility. In Jesus Christ, son of Joseph and Mary, God became our friend. I hope everyone struggling to find their hope and their joy this year will remember God’s great lovingkindness and know peace this Christmas.
Timothy Head is the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.