While 2020 was a year of serious challenges, tragedies, and divisions, there were some bright spots. In this blog series, the IWF team looks back at the year’s highlights, silver linings, and redeeming themes as we countdown the days to 2021.

For our family, like so many families, 2020 has been a trying year. We’ve experienced the loneliness that comes from the loss of fellowship and the continuing ache that comes from losing someone close. This year has also been one of unexpected joy as we welcomed our third child in November. Her name is Abigail Llynn. Abigail, which in Hebrew, means the Father’s joy, and Llynn, after my Mom, who we miss so much. 

As the snow falls and I hold Abigail close, marveling at the tiny fingers which tightly clasp my much-bigger hand, I wonder how much Mary knew on that Christmas night so long ago. Did she know her son would suffer every temptation and yet sin not once? Did she know he would be known as a man of sorrows? Did she know he would feel utterly and absolutely alone on the cross where he bore our sins and God the Father turned His face away? Did she know that her son would save the world, by giving His life for it? 

Mercifully, biblical scholars tell us that Mary probably thought her son would be an earthly king who would liberate the Jewish people from Roman rule. But God the Father, the Father who looked with absolute joy and delight on that small child in the manger, knew everything His son would suffer. He understood that the Christmas story is good news precisely because it culminates in the cross. The Christmas miracle is a miracle because it is not just about the birth of Jesus but also about His death.

Christmas is good news for a weary world because born on that day long ago was a Savior who loved us so much that He willingly went to the cross. In fact, both Jesus’s birth and death were bookended by joy. When the angels appeared to the Bethlehem shepherds, they proclaimed good news of a great joy—the birth of Jesus. And at his life’s end, Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. That is, looking out from the cross, Jesus saw you and me, and he deemed the high cost of saving us—His life—worth it.

In a year troubled by a global pandemic, isolation, economic hardship, and the loss of friends and loved ones, our weary world can rejoice for three reasons. First, we rejoice because we have a Savior who has been there. In one of its most comforting passages, the Bible tells us that we do not serve a God who is above suffering but one who understands its every nuance. In fact, that first Christmas night set in motion a life that would endure loneliness, economic hardship, abandonment, torture, and ultimately death. 

Second, we rejoice because we serve a God who enters into our present suffering and who promises never to leave us or forsake us. He is always working on our behalf, even when we can’t see him in our circumstances. 

Third, this earth, fraught as it is with sickness, sorrow, and death is not all there is. Jesus bore the penalty for our sins on the cross, and in this act of substitutionary atonement, made it possible for us to be reconciled to God the Father. We rejoice because the grave could not hold Jesus who rose on the third day—the day on which death started working backwards. Eternal life is now available for all those who believe. And when Jesus returns, He promises to wipe away every tear; there will be no more crying, pain, sickness, sorrow, or death. 

As Abigail snuggles close this Christmas, I say her name: “Abigail, the Father’s joy.” Christmas is good news because Jesus’s birth is evidence that we too are the Father’s joy. He delights in us and loves us so much that He sent His only son to earth, so that we might not perish, but have everlasting life.