Today, you’ll be sitting down at a table with your closest family and friends. And yes; this really is as good as it gets. For some, dealing with relatives is only a matter of putting up with a few quirks and eccentricities, like Uncle Edgar’s bizarre fascination with UFO conspiracies, or the way Grandma Myrtle feeds the Pomeranian from the table. For others, family always feels like crisis. You don’t get along. You’re nursing past wounds. And if faith is not something you share, even this becomes a divide that makes the table seem all the wider.
Jesus’ time with His disciples is coming to a rapid close. He is trying to prepare them for a tough journey ahead. But the gospel tells us that suffering is never the end of the story.
John 16:16-33 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
In “a little while,” He says. Sorrow is temporary. Did you notice the illustration He uses? Childbirth. Childbirth is one of the most physically demanding things a person can go through. The weight gain, the late-night cravings—and that’s just the husband. In all seriousness, couples go to great lengths to have a child, despite the physical (and emotional…and financial) demands that come with it. But it’s hard to find a couple who look back and said it was anything but worth it. In fact, if you’ve ever been around an expecting couple, they’ve probably pulled out their wallets (or smartphones) to show you a black-and-white blurry photo. Try and be polite. “Oh, you’re having a…potato.” But it’s not a potato. It’s a sonogram—a picture of the child developing in the womb. The sonogram tells us that the baby isn’t here yet, but the baby is coming soon. That’s what the gospel teaches us, and that’s what Jesus is telling His disciples. The resurrection of Jesus is like the sonogram. God’s victory isn’t here yet—but it’s coming very soon.
25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The gospel never offers a single promise of happiness. But the Bible offers radical promises of lasting joy. Isn’t it ironic that as we stand at the cusp of Black Friday sales and mobs of mall shoppers, that all of this is takes place in the season we traditionally celebrate Jesus’ birth? The happiness these sales promise will fade long before the next year. Only Jesus offers lasting joy in a world full of sorrow. What if you really believed this was true? What if, through the cross and resurrection, Jesus really did overcome the world? But that’s what the gospel promises. He overcame your family strife. He overcame Black Friday greed. He overcame sin, overcame death, overcame the mockery of the crowds, overcame the shameful burden you and I placed on His shoulders.
In a little while, He promises. In a little while we’ll be free of the cares of today and live in the joy of tomorrow. So as you gather at your table today, remember that sorrow lasts through the night. Joy comes with the morning.