I love the sweet smells of Christmas, the glow of candles, the tree, the smiles, the greetings of friends. I remember being together with uncle and aunt, grandma and grandpa, cousins, mom and dad, all of us smiling. I love the glow of Christmas now in our own home, with our own tree, my dear wife making cookies to give to the neighbors. Some of our family will be here at Christmas to celebrate, to eat together and share some gifts. This is the sweetness of Christmas for many of us, and how we hope it might be for everyone.
So what is wrong with that? Perhaps it’s not really wrong, it’s just not the full picture. If we can read the Bible without our Christmas filter shading every part of the story with warm colors, we will see something else. If we can read the Bible as if we’d never heard of Christmas as we know it, then the story Luke and Matthew tell seems to be a very gritty story. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s good feeling for the holidays, but listen carefully to these elements.
- A young woman is told she will be pregnant before she is married, and not by
her fiancé, rather some mysterious spiritual source. Who’s going to believe that?
- The man engaged to this woman learns of her condition. It is heart-rending.
How could she?
- The two are led to reconcile when he has a dream telling him to trust her story.
- When she is eight or nine months along, they are compelled by the government to go
on a seventy five mile walk, she perhaps riding on a donkey. How difficult is that?
- Finally arriving at their destination, there are no rooms available. They bed down in a
barn, a stable, a place of animals, and there she gives birth! Could it get worse?
- Strangers arrive and tell about seeing angels. Mary and Joseph are encouraged.
- It appears that Joseph gets a job, and they are able to at least rent a house.
- Not long after, some strange men arrive who honor their son with gifts.
- But then the ax falls, as a powerful ruler sends his army to kill all the babies in the
town, and in particular he wants Mary’s and Joseph’s baby dead.
- They are warned, so they sneak out of town and head for a foreign land, where they
will have to find a way to make a new life, hiding, hoping not to be found.
This is not a warm, sweet story. It is gritty, scary, and leaves you crying for justice, for relief from the discomfort, the pain, the sorrow. This is the story of Jesus’ birth. He and his parents had a rough time, a terrifying time, their lives colored by dangerous, threatening powers.
The good news: Jesus grew to be a man not intimidated by life’s gritty situations. He never hesitated to stop and talk with a prostitute, or take time to encourage a leper, to touch the dirty wounds of hurting people. He met the gritty side of life with confidence. In fact, he argued with powerful people in public. He made enemies when he confronted their hypocrisy. And he knew those people would eventually kill him. Now that’s a story. And it concludes with a special ending on Easter.
But this week, let’s celebrate that we have a savior with grit, who comes to us wherever we are, happy or not, merry perhaps, or sad. For some people that cultural merry Christmas does not happen. For all of us, there will be times like that, when it hurts to try to be merry. And Jesus comes walking into any home, any heart that will welcome him. He is really with us.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:22-23 NIV
© 2021 Stanley Hagemeyer