It feels good to read/tell the Christmas story from either the gospel of Matthew or Luke in the Bible. Sitting around the fireplace at home or around the Christmas feast is ideal for the telling of the story. Another popular place is around the altar or chancel area at church with all the children. So many people have great memories of the story being told. If only the story would match the idyllic setting in which it is told!
Is there really all that much that is warm and fuzzy in the biblical story of the Nativity?
You have an occupying government telling people they want a head count of everyone in the country. And it is not good enough to simply go to people’s homes and count heads. No, everyone has to go to the city they were born in! No one in the government cares if you have moved away from your birthplace. No one cares if you do not have the means to travel back home. You better find the means. No one cares if you are not a spring chicken and not in good enough health to travel. No one even cares if you are nine months pregnant and live 70-80 miles away from Bethlehem. Too bad. Make the trip anyway.
You have a small town (Bethlehem) that is inundated with people who haven’t been “home” for years. There is no room available for Mary and Joseph and apparently no one willing to give theirs up for a woman on the threshold of delivering her baby. There is a lot of debate about whether they found a barn, a cave, or someone put them in the spare room of their house but what is clear is that it is not what anyone would have hoped for when it came to the birth of their first child.
Do we ever mention to our kids today that there was no such thing as an epidural anesthetic in those days? Lots and lots of pain. Granted, every other mother went through the same thing but don’t you think there was a lot of sweating and screaming going on in this birth?
Angels. Lots of them. If you think that suddenly being made aware of the presence of “a multitude of the heavenly host” and being in the presence of “the glory of the Lord” is a soothing experience then why does the story say the shepherds “were filled with great fear” (Luke 2:9)?
The part about the wise men following a heavenly sign to the Nativity is a bit encouraging. Until you find out that the gifts they bring not only foretell the baby’s death but must be used to finance a trip to Egypt in order to escape the puppet king’s wrath and intent to kill that newborn son. So the holy family runs for their lives to live in obscurity in a nation whose history with Jewish people is not good at all!
But oh how we love our little manger scenes that portray peace and serenity. Even though the biblical narrative is trying to tell us that “on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14 KJV) is coming at a terrible price.
So if you are hurting and struggling, crying and suffering, uncomfortable and put out at this holy and blessed time of the year…I say “good!” You are in a much better place to identify with and be blessed by the true narrative of Christmas.
There really isn’t very much “feel good” stuff in the biblical account of the birth of Christ the Lord. The true story includes suffering, death, fear, and flight. And it is all aiming at a bloody and crucified Messiah.
Jesus once told a man He set free from a “Legion” of demons that all He expected of him was to “go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). The place to begin to tell what the Lord has done for you begins not when you were delivered from your issue (sin). It is with the Christmas story.
Let me tell you what Jesus did for me. It all begins with the fact that He left the comfort and bliss of Heaven and came into a dire and desperate situation that included suffering, murder, and running from evil people…
Preachers are fond of saying “You can’t have Easter without Good Friday.” That’s true. But you cannot have Good Friday without Christmas. And Christmas set the tone for both the Cross and the empty tomb. Joy emerges from incalculable suffering and misery.
So you are having a hard time this Christmas? Good. Now you are in a position to have the most meaningful Christmas of your life. Now you (and I) are ready to walk in Mary and Joseph’s shoes.
Have an intense Christmas and you will much more appreciate “Peace” and “goodwill” than ever before. And “Immanuel” won’t be a cute name but a cherished promise fulfilled “God is with me.”