Sadly, when I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of understanding for those who hobbled around using canes. I wasn’t unkind. I just couldn’t relate. I walked fast, hiked, and climbed hills with verve. Aging has changed my perspective. Now I’m the one who hobbles around using a walking stick—I still can’t call it a cane. My knees are shot. Replacement surgery is on the horizon.
Christmas, the coming of the Son of God as a baby in a manger, is about God expressing empathy for our human condition enough to live 33 years among us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin”(Heb.4:15). “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted”(Heb.2:18).
All of us find it difficult to understand those in situations that we haven’t experienced. In a recent conversation, someone talked about their antipathy towards cities, Toronto in particular. Personally, Mary Helen and I love living in the countryside. But we also love to immerse ourselves in the multi-ethnic nature of Toronto. Hearing different languages, seeing different races— to us is a taste of what heaven will be like. We can even understand why many prefer the convenience of city life with its transit, shopping and proximity to great museums, art galleries, and concert halls.
On the other hand we understand why many love country living with its fields and wild turkeys and big skies and wonderful woodlands. We’ve been there. Of course, not everyone loves the woodlands. I’ve heard of one man who said, “If you’ve seen one tree you’ve seen them all.” What? Oaks and pines and ironwood and poplar and…?
During the same recent conversation mentioned earlier, one person said he had no sympathy for Muslims. We can understand why Muslims antagonize people in today’s climate. Fortunately, we’ve had happier experiences among them. Mary Helen and I, having lived 16 years in an overwhelmingly Muslim country, have more empathy. Most Muslims—the Taliban excluded—long for the same things we do: education for their children, economic security, basic human freedoms, and a safe place to live.
It’s human to react, express puzzlement or disapproval of something or someone we don’t understand. Few of us understand the conditions under which our native people live because we haven’t walked a mile in their moccasins.
At Christmas God sent His Son among us to save us from our sins, but also to express empathy with our human condition. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Who, being in very nature God…made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…became obedient to death—even death on a cross”(Phil. 2:4-8)!
So as we read the Christmas story, let’s remind ourselves of the lengths Christ went to so he could empathize with our condition. And let’s express a lot more understanding of others.