The other day I had to have a tooth out – but thank God, before the dentist yanked it out, he gave me a couple of injections to dull the pain. But even then, I was not relaxed – to my great embarrassment, immediately after the pain-killing injections I was shaking uncontrollably. For reasons which are beyond my control, I appear to have the lowest of pain thresholds. If there was a way to harness the nervous energy that I expend in the dentist’s chair, then all of Chelmsford could be lit by that energy. How I would have coped in a previous era, when there were no pain-killers, I dread to think
All this comes to mind when I read again the words of John: “The word became flesh” (John 1.14). Amongst other things this surely means that Jesus shared in the pain of our living. Yes, the very term ‘flesh’ reminds me of the frailty of Jesus. Flesh is nervous, sensitive tissue which can easily be seared, bruised, or battered by pain. Yes, in a way which I have never experienced, Jesus knew what real pain was all about. We see that, for instance, on the road to the cross – the so-called ‘Via Dolorosa’ . The crown of thorns, the weight of the cross, the weals on his back from the lashings meted out to him – what pain he endured.
But Jesus didn’t simply take on a human body. He also took on a human psyche, capable of feeling all the emotions you and I feel. He experienced not only the physical pain of the nails, but also the emotional pain of love spurned and rejected. The betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter must have hurt him beyond, for he was one of us. In the words of Karl Rahner, the Roman Catholic theologian:
The eternal logos of God has a human heart, he risked the adventure of a human heart, until pierced by the sin of the world, it had flowed out, until it had suffered to the end of the cross.
This Christmas I am conscious of so much pain in our world. There is the pain of Syria, for instance, as the civil war becomes even more unimaginably brutal. There is the plain of Newtown, Connecticut, as parents grieve the dreadful loss of their young children. There is also the pain I come across as a pastor – the family trying to come to terms with the suicide of a loved one; the young woman in a secure unit constantly tempted to self-harm; the man whose marriage has fallen apart celebrating his last Christmas in the marital home; the son distraught by the news that his father’s brain tumour has begun to grow again; and so the litany goes on. There is pain everywhere – pain which cannot be dulled.
“The word became flesh”. Jesus entered our world and shared in our pain. Here strangely there is good news: Jesus knows, Jesus understands. And there is more good news: the Jesus who knows and understands is the Jesus who through his Spirit is with us. He is our “Emmanuel” – not just for Christmas past, but for today too.