Christmas can feel glamorous and polished.
It seems like each year, we frantically reproduce an idealized Christmas, one we've pieced together from movies, traditions and, if we're lucky, childhood memories. Santa seems to be the centerpiece of the holiday, and we fantasize and sing about snow, gigantic trees, elaborate light displays, piles of beautifully wrapped gifts, cold weather, a warm fire, the aroma of delicious food cooking, and loving family surrounding us.
But the original Christmas story is messy. At Christmas, believers meditate on the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, and every year I'm shocked by the contrast of the traumatic birth of Jesus with images of candy, hot cocoa, snow, and lots of presents.
In the biblical version of Christmas, kids are the centerpiece. There's not one adult in the nativity story; Mary and Joseph are believed to have been teenagers when Jesus was born. The hero of the original story is Jesus, a newborn baby. NEWBORN. BABY. Helpless and needy. (Dare I say: the opposite of Santa Claus?)
Imagine a pregnant teen girl, expecting a predictable birth in the safety of her home, with the support of a midwife and family surrounding her. And then she realizes they have to travel, just the two of them. So close to the due date!! On the road, she goes into labor; they haven't even found a place to spend the night. They find a BARN to collapse in, and Mary gives birth with only her teenage partner, Joseph, to help.
Imagine two teenagers figuring out how to give birth. In a smelly barn, full of animal poop and dust. Nowhere clean to lie down. No nurse, no adult who's been through childbirth before. No experience. Just winging it. Is there supposed to be this much blood? Is Mary supposed to be in this much pain? Joseph must have worried that his wife and baby might not live through this. It would be human to be terrified. It would be normal to feel abandoned and alone. Somehow, they managed the pain and work and bodily fluids of a childbirth on their own. (But not on their own! The Higher Power was right there with them.)
And their baby son was GOD, WITH US.
Those who believe must note that, in taking on human form to be among His children, God could have chosen the body and circumstances of a royal child. Or He could have appeared fully grown, in the dignified and respected body of a revered Pharisee or Rabbi or government official.
But God chose to be part of a poor, teenage family. When Herod heard that a baby was born "King of the Jews," he had 25 baby boys murdered. That's not Christmas TV special material. Twenty five families mourning; one humble family taking care of GOD INCARNATE.
Jesus came to us in a cloud of uncertainty, fear, filth, and death.
Jesus brought us certainty, safety, comfort, and life.
THAT is why the magi travelled for months to bring Him gifts for a king. THAT is why angels appeared. THAT is why Christmas is a big deal. THAT is why we celebrate.
So if your Christmas isn't a Norman Rockwell painting, or a Burl Ives song, or a Hallmark Christmas movie, THAT'S OKAY! It doesn't have to be that way for you to find joy. The real Christmas is gritty and messy and scary, and the CREATOR came to walk among us to bring redemption and love. Joy to the world!
"Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20)