A recent devotional in Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (December 18th) opens with this challenge: “When you are plagued by a persistent problem – one that goes on and on – view it as a rich opportunity.” I immediately connected with the idea of persistent problems, as I too easily focus on things gone wrong. The news media overwhelm me with intractable problems; I encounter them in my work and in my personal life. I confess “opportunity” isn’t the first word that comes to my mind.

The young family from Nazareth also faced persistent problems, not the least of which was Mary’s pregnancy conceived by “the Spirit.” Really? Now that’s a problem, for sure. Add to that perceived disgrace, they were poor, part of an oppressed culture, compelled to make an arduous journey, and there was no room in the inn for Mary to give birth. Those problems were only the beginning of what Mary and Joseph would face in the next three decades.

The meditation continues with the promise, “An ongoing problem is like a tutor who is always by your side.” Whether in school or from someone who mentored me professionally, I’ve always loved being tutored by a gifted instructor. I do realize that problems are sometimes my best teachers, though I’m never fond of their schooling.

This meditation struck me with its implication of a tutor who is always at your side. Of course! That description is at the core of the Christmas story. It’s the very meaning of “Immanuel,” God with us. The birth of the baby Jesus introduced the enormously outrageous presence of God into a fallen world. In the filth of a Bethlehem stable and the depravity of the human heart.

Obstinate problems are accompanied by a tutor who is well acquainted with difficult circumstances. A teacher who lived his lessons with patience, perseverance and total faith in God’s eventual purpose and provision.

Today, I’m grateful for this timely reminder that I can choose to focus on my problems or on the practical presence of a Savior in their midst. It’s the ultimate Christmas message!

Marnie C. Ferree