Christmas is upon us. Ornaments have been hung, candles lit, devotionals read, cards sent, presents carefully bought and wrapped.
Or maybe not.
Maybe you’ve only half-way decorated your tree this year, half-way dove into Advent or half-way dedicated your heart to the true reason for the season.
Maybe you started out strong but slowly grew distracted, drained and disappointed. Maybe with each passing day, you felt the holy leak out of this holiday. All the planning, party going, shopping, traveling and errand running sucked the stillness out of any hope of a silent night. You’re hanging on to the deflated version of Christmas, waiting for God’s holy breath to fill it back up again.
Maybe you’re just ready for 2019 to finally come, so that you can put this year and all its pain behind you. Maybe you feel like you’ve run out of time and are just not ready, not mentally, emotionally or physically prepared to face this celebration.
Some 2,000 years ago, another family was grappling with an array of emotions as the first Christmas was upon them. Mary and Joseph had traveled by foot for several days from Nazareth to Bethlehem, arriving in an overcrowded town bustling with census traffic.
As they meandered their way through the streets searching for a place to stay, Mary’s labor pains quickened. The Deliverer was coming, ready to be delivered so that we could be born again. But where?
“And Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem … to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough—because there was no room for them at the lodging place” (Luke 2:4-7).
Not much detail is given about Mary’s labor and delivery. But having had several children and having watched my husband pace back and forth in the comfort of our hospital room, I can only imagine some of the things this young couple - in all their humanity - might have felt:
They didn’t feel ready.
They didn’t feel equipped.
They didn’t feel worthy.
They didn’t fully understand.
They felt rushed.
They felt scared.
They felt exhausted.
They felt alone.
The timing and arrangements of this birth could not have seemed ideal even though they were planned by God himself before the formation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Nothing had been left to chance, no detail unturned, yet it must have seemed like God’s provisions had been forgotten.
Even though angels had visited both Mary and Joseph to assure them of God’s plan (Matthew 1:20, Luke 1:26-35), even though a multitude of heavenly hosts had praised God among a field of shepherds (Luke 2:13), even though His star hung in the sky guiding the wise men to Him (Matthew 2:2), Mary and Joseph might still have felt a little lost. It all may have seemed a bit … surreal.
The reality was there was nowhere for the young couple to stay. Time was running out, and the long-awaited Messiah was coming. Lodged in a stable, there was no decent place for Mary to rest her tired arms after giving birth to Jesus. There was no decent place for the King of kings to lay His head. The Creator of the animals was laid in a feeding trough. God in a baby's feeble shell was swaddled in torn and tattered cloth – the same kind of cloth wrapped around His battered body for burial some 33 years later (Luke 2:7, 12, Mark 15:46).
This baby born to die was and still is the world's greatest hope.
The good news is that no matter how Mary and Joseph felt, Jesus still came. Because His breaking through and reaching out to all of us wasn’t about perfect arrangements or perfect parents or perfect people but a perfect God.
In God’s goodness, even the place and the time of Jesus’ birth, as inconceivable as they were, were purposeful – a sign to us that He comes for us right where we are, in the most unexpected and uninvited and inconvenient of situations.
God has orchestrated your situation, too, wherever you find yourself this Christmas. Whether it is in a close-knit family brimming with happiness or with a patchwork of friends or in the chaos of multitudes or the tension of teenagers or in the quietness of your own home, alone and missing those you love.
Where and with whom you celebrate Christmas doesn’t change the meaning of it.
No matter where you find yourself on Christmas day – you are seen and loved by God. Because Christmas - and the entire life of Christ - is explicitly about the great love of God coming in flesh to save us (John 1:14).
No one is alone or forgotten. And even if you've forgotten God, He is still Immanuel - God with us (Matthew 1:23). He has never forgotten us.
A Perfect Person over a perfect Christmas
In our human nature, the desire of our hearts is to celebrate our Hallmark Christmas in a home that is festively decorated, with food that is impeccably cooked, with kids who are grateful and well behaved, and with family who loves and likes one another - all while feeling relaxed and refreshed and merry.
The reality, however, is most of us will wake up Christmas morning depleted from a long and demanding December. We will start the day tired celebrating the One who came for a weary world. We will wrangle kids who are over served with gifts and sugar. We will push through family functions and traffic with a twinge to be still. We will smile even though our hearts may ache. And did I mention that we will be tired?
And that is if we are the “lucky ones”. The ones who still have our loved ones with us, the ones healthy enough to travel from home to home, the ones loved enough to have relatives to visit, and wealthy enough to have a home and food to share.
It should give us great comfort knowing that the first parents of Christmas were feeling a lot like us - stretched thin yet still able to rejoice in the miracle of Christ’s birth. How?
Because they knew that God had left heaven to bring us home to Him. They knew Christ's coming was bigger than any obstacle or discomfort or fear they would face.
The good news is that no matter what you did (or didn’t do) this December, no matter what has happened (or hasn’t happened) this year, the celebration of Christ’s birth will come to pass just as it has every year for the past two thousand plus years.
Christ’s birth isn’t about our performance but His promise to redeem us (Isaiah 11).
The reliability and assurance of Christmas coming steadies and protects us from all the uncertainties and disappointments of this world.
The good news of Christmas is also the Good News of the Gospel: the coming of Christ as a baby, the death of Christ as a man, and the return of Christ as King does not depend on you.
The Good News of God is for all people, for all time
As the angel announced the arrival of Jesus to the shepherds, it was called “good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).
The dullness and ordinariness of the backdrop for the birth of Christ is shocking and a bit unsettling to us. Uneducated men in a field of bleating sheep were the first to hear of the Messiah's birth, of the great joy for all the people. Our flesh feels it should have been better, pumped with more pomp and circumstance, fitted for the King of kings, not a lowly servant.
Yet God's plan was precise, to bring the Good News of great joy to all people - poor people, rich people, worn out people, wicked people, wise people, foolish people, arrogant people and hurting people. Salvation in Christ is for all the people.
Jesus was birthed by a finite, imperfect woman into an imperfect world, to birth everlasting and perfect life to us.
The never changing plan of Jesus is to bring His purity to our filth, His light to our darkness, His tenderness to our hardened hearts, His innocence to our depravity, His holiness to our sin.
Christmas is for everyone.
So if you feel like you’ve already missed it or didn't fully prepare Him room in your heart or that somehow this holiday hinges on you, shift your focus from your performance to the pure and perfect Person of Jesus.
Christmas can still be received. Your heart can still be opened. His holy breath can still fill your soul. His love can still be shared with others.
We were made by God to receive and to give His perfect, plentiful and personal love.
Because Christmas is not about what we have or haven’t done but about what Jesus already did.
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
And while we were still sinners, Christ came for us. He came. He broke through our darkness. He stilled our chaos with the cries of an infant. He laid in a wooden cradle only to lie on a wooden cross, for us.
Our Deliverer was delivered - the Holy One born humble, Hope for the hopeless, the Tireless for the weary, the Redeemer for the enslaved. Love incarnate, flesh on Spirit, the exact representation of God came for all mankind while we were forgetful, obstinate, disobedient, distracted, apathetic and doubtful (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3).
How can we be present in the holy moments of Christmas when presents are being ripped open and toys need freeing from boxes and house guests need more toilet paper and Jesus seems to be slipping farther and farther away? How do we push back the noise of the holiday so that it doesn’t stifle the sacredness of this most holy day?
We can follow the example of Mary, who “was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them” (Luke 2:19).
Treasure a Savior who came from heaven to bring us the Good News that we can be at Home with Him by simply abiding in Him.
We can receive the living hope of Jesus, freely given and never earned, as the greatest gift we’ll unwrap this Christmas.
An Advent Prayer:
Heavenly Father, we long for your plan of rescue and redemption to be realized. Give us hearts that see Your beauty and wait in hope for You to make all things good and new again. May Your light and love shine brightly in our hearts, spreading hope, joy and peace to those around us. Amen.