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KSR Voices: Christmas — The God Who Knows What It’s Like


It was my first Christmas as lead pastor at Tates Creek Presbyterian Church. I was young, inexperienced, pretending like I knew what I was doing and somehow getting away with it. But there are pastoral moments that can’t be faked, and this was one of them.

A family in our congregation had lost their teenage son. I sat with them for what seemed like an eternity, vainly trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy. When it finally came time to leave, I’ll never forget the terrible irony from the radio when I turned on my car: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s the hap-happiest season of all!”

There is something strangely unsettling when suffering intrudes upon the holidays. We know we’re supposed to “be of good cheer,” but we just don’t have it in us. And everyone else’s happiness feels patronizing, perhaps even insulting.

But I want to suggest that Christmas, rightly understood, is precisely what the hurting desperately need. Not shallow Hallmark sentimentally, but Christmas in its rawest and most scandalous form—the birth of God.

Christians believe that Christmas is not the birth of the main character of history, but the birth of the actual author of history. God actually writes himself into his own story, and in this way, God can actually relate to his own story.

J.R.R. Tolkien speaks of storytelling as the art of secondary belief. Primary belief is our real experiences of the real story we inhabit. We know things because we experience things. Secondary belief is where storytelling comes in. The measure of a good novel or film is its ability to evoke secondary belief. We get caught up into the story in real experiential ways. We cry with the story’s tragedies, smile with the story’s joys, get chills with the story’s drama—we relate to the story as though we ourselves are in it even though we are not.

When we think of God relating to us, we typically think in terms of secondary belief. He certainly cares for us and is very moved by our story, but only in secondary ways as an outsider looking in. But Christmas is God transitioning from secondary to primary knowledge. He now knows our story because he’s now in our story.

And this familiarity is exactly what the suffering need.

We all know from personal experience that nothing comforts us in our pain more than others who have experienced the same. I call it the power of relatability. This is why support groups, for example, are so therapeutic. But conversely, nothing agitates pain more than those who can’t relate trying to comfort you with trite consolations. Of course we smile and politely thank them, but inside we’re screaming, “You have no idea what it’s like!”

Well, because of Christmas, God himself is now with us in our suffering as one who actually knows exactly what it’s like. I suppose you could say there is pain Jesus never had to experience. He never lost a child, for example. But something we are able to say about Jesus is that there is no degree of suffering he is unfamiliar with, for nobody has or ever will suffer more than Jesus. After all, let us never forget the reason he was born was so that he could die. And not just any death. The cruelest of deaths on a cross bearing the sin, shame, and condemnation we all deserve.

None but Jesus has endured a suffering like Calvary, and in this way, Jesus suffers alone. Nobody can say to Jesus, “I know what it’s like,” but Jesus can say to every single one of us, no matter the degree of pain, “I know what it’s like.” Simply put, Jesus is utterly alone in his suffering, so that nobody will ever have to be alone in theirs.

This is the consolation I’ve learned to share as a pastor. When I’m with the hurting, I don’t pretend to relate, because more often than not, I simply can’t. Instead I hold their hands, look them in the eyes, and offer words only Christmas lets me say: “I can’t imagine what this must be like, but God can.”

Perhaps this is what you need to hear this Christmas season? Perhaps your suffering finds you overwhelmed by cynical sneer not holiday cheer? Perhaps you are just going through the motions of the “hap-happiest season of all” with a hap-hapless indifference to all? I understand. Actually, I probably don’t. But God does. Whatever you may be going through, because of Christmas, God knows exactly what it’s like.

Robert Cunningham is the Senior Pastor of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church. Follow him on twitter at @tcpcrobert and submit any comments or questions to [email protected]

Article written by Robert Cunningham

36 responses to “KSR Voices: Christmas — The God Who Knows What It’s Like”

  1. BluemanGreen

    What in the HELL was that?

    Definitely had nothing to do with UK Athletics.

    1. YourBoyBlue

      Really man? Really?

    2. channell

      There has been many articles on this site that has nothing to do with UK athletics. A message of hope and peace is appropriate anytime, anywhere. One day you may need to hear a message similar to it. I will admit that I was surprised when I saw it on this site. During this hectic time of the year that message of hope is what makes this holiday season doable for some people.

    3. RealCatsFan

      Douchebag.

  2. YourBoyBlue

    Thank you. Thank you for perspective and thank you from a person needing perspective.

  3. Gogh Big Bleu

    Thank you, Robert. The Christian story is unlike any other religion’s story. All others: how much can you do to get to God, or become right with God?
    Christianity: God has come to us, to rescue us (Christmas). We only need to believe that he can save, and he will. The only thing we contribute to salvation is the sin that made salvation necessary.

  4. opinpi

    God doesn’t exist.

    1. Demolition_man

      Ok, prove it.

    2. opinpi

      Burden of proof falls upon those who claim he does exist

    3. YourBoyBlue

      Look up Lee Stroebol

    4. YourBoyBlue

      Or Josh McDowell

    5. Demolition_man

      You made the claim that God didn’t exist, so back up your claim.

    6. cats646

      There’s no absolute proof on either side. It’s a matter of faith. So for someone to think its ignorant to believe in God because it’s too far fetched, not believing in God is just as ignorant, because all of this coming from a random ball of matter that decided to randomly explode is just as far fetched. The truth is we just don’t know how we got here.

    7. RealCatsFan

      Most of the self proclaimed “atheists” that I have met are very smug people who have experienced little real adversity in their lives and are taking this position to try to make themselves seem worldly, sophisticated and cool. When real adversity in life hits, they often go running for something to grab onto to steady themselves. If you have nothing there, good luck to you.

    8. geoff

      Jesus was here, Jesus performed miracles, Jesus was crucified, died and was buried, even secular historians would agree…..the disagreement comes concerning his resurrection……if he wasn’t resurrected then Christianity is a lie….all you or anybody else that have been looking for the last 2000 years have to do is find his body and you will prove there is no God…..we’ll be waiting……

  5. CALO222

    It’s really cool to see this message on KSR. Color me impressed.

  6. JerryCat

    Uhhh, what?

  7. BigTimeOwen

    As far as I know, sports have nothing to do with religion. I don’t mind giving people a place to talk about other things occasionally on a sports site (eg: Matt has always been involved with politics so I’ve come to expect some of that). That said, if you’re going to come to a sports website and talk religion, could you not talk to us like we are all part of your cult?

    1. YourBoyBlue

      All you had to do is scroll on. Why hate a peaceful perspective on life just because it differs with you opinion?

      Here’s the problem. You’re in the minority and you can’t stand it. There are more people in this country that we’re glad to read that wonderful message than those that oppose it. Generally, those people read it, smile, are glad to know that like minded people are still walking the earth, then they go on. Then there’s you, and people like you. People who are so attention starved they have to find a way to make something negative out of a truly heartfelt message. I feel sorry for you, I really do. I love sports as much or more than the next person, but I’d never let a religious post of any kind bring me to comment anything out of spite regardless of what kind of forum it was seen. That’s called respect, and it’s actually something all major religions of the world teach, something that all cultures of the world are severely lacking. Case in point being my response to your narrow minded viewpoint.

      Believe in the Savior, or don’t. You’ll answer for it one day, or maybe you will not. But chastising people for their beliefs, their freedom of speech, or their thoughts on religion is so, so petty.

    2. TMacFromNichVegas

      Stop and consider 3 things: 1) this article may not be for you. It may be for someone that loves UK sports but has experienced a lot of loss this year and just needs to be told that there is hope, 2) calling what this man is talking about a cult is ignorant and rude, do you really think every article on here has to have your stamp of approval? 3) maybe listen to the message of this article from the perspective of do I need this Jesus that he refers to in order to get to heaven or can I get there ok my own?

    3. cats646

      There is a huge difference in religion and a “cult”.

    4. geoff

      Religion is a belief system created by man, Christianity is a belief system created by God…..God sent his son here to die for us…..Christianity isn’t a Religion.

    5. cats646

      Good point geoff

  8. ZManBlue

    Awesome Article! May the Lord continue to Bless everyone at KSR.

  9. ukbradstith

    Wonderful article! Merry Christmas!

  10. brinels1

    Thank you, from someone who’s checked this site almost daily since the Patrick Patterson recruitment days. This post will register positive with the majority of people that visit this site. Ignore the negativity, this can inspire many people, and the people hating aren’t the type than can be inspired.

  11. JC3

    What a wonderful message! I have struggled through the years to relate to those that reject Christ perfect sacrifice. I did too for the first 39 years of my life. I can still remember the day I got down on my knees and ask Jesus to help me. I had no hope and the pain was so intense. Then in a little bathroom by myself he reached down and saved me. I can not adequately describe what happened. My life was totally and radically changed. That was 26 years ago. My one big regret is that I did not ask many, many years before. So if your hurting during the Christmas season give some thought to asking Jesus to come into your life. He never runs out of Mercy, grace or Love! GOD bless all of BBN.

    1. JASUN74

      JC3. That’s a awesome testimony brother. I appreciate you so much for sharing with me, your story. Thank you, and although it took some time to find him, he always loved you and all of us.

      It’s never too late. I’m not worthy at all, and I know, I don’t deserve what he has gave me. I’m just glad he’s been with me, and stuck with me all my days.

      I love everyone of you guys that post here, and this has been a great joy to be able to make some friends, and discuss UK basketball with you all. We don’t agree on everything, but the Cats have sure brought us together. Lol.

      Again, Thank you so much for sharing that. I’ve sit here and cried hearing it. Shewww. I can’t even see my phone now. Lol. I think I really needed to hear that and there is nothing in the world, that can make you feel like I am right now.

      Lol. Man. I hope You and your family, have a great Christmas and I sure do appreciate it.

  12. Baize

    I appreciate you taking the time to write this, sir. Please know that the negative ones are a vocal minority.

  13. nicky

    Thanks go to MJ (whom I disagree with politically) for allowing this writing on his site….very thoughtful and generous of him….Merry Christmas to all!

  14. JustUrAvg

    Thank you! Merry Christmas and Blessings to ALL! Even the ones who can’t say something good or nothing at all!

  15. abmorris27

    Observation: nobody is forced to read this blog, or any specific stories on this blog. If you see a headline that is clearly religious and you don’t want to read a religious post, then don’t read it. Same for posts that are political. It’s a voluntary thing. Don’t understand why it’s so hard to just skip to the stuff you want to read!

    1. YourBoyBlue

      Amen

  16. RealCatsFan

    I have had enough loss and adversity in my life since I became an adult to realize that my faith is something that I need to help me get through it. If others want to look down on me for that, I couldn’t care less. I don’t care if you are a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever religion you want to follow, if you have charity, empathy, and sincerity in your heart, you will generally be a good human being. If you are self centered, bigoted, hateful and angry, you are probably not. If that is the case, I pray that something will happen to change you.

  17. b-dub

    Nice sentiments in a very jaded world! May God’s blessings fill each and every one of us!

  18. JASUN74

    I wish I could speak at text every one of you all, but it would take too long. So I just want to say thank you all for sharing with us and I appreciate it. We all have things that are going on in our life’s , but with God, it always seems to have a way of working out for the better.

    To the people who don’t believe, it’s okay, you’re still trying to find the truth or something. . One day when our time comes up, and it will come up!!, I just hope something great happens for you to let you feel something to help you believe.

    I know some won’t listen and will argue till they’re blue in the face, so to you I say, we all love you all too. And when the time comes, WE WILL WELCOME YOU WITH OPEN ARMS. Until that day comes,! Merry Christmas and I hope you have a great Holiday Season.