The Christmas season is designed to be merry and bright. Christmas lights, trees decorated with ornaments and angels, carolers singing hymns of the Messiahs birth, and figgy pudding make up the ambiance of the season. Gift exchanges and family gatherings highlight our favorite time of year. More importantly we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, on Christmas. Children’s Christmas plays reveal an adorable portrayal of Jesus’ birth surrounded by angels, shepherds, sheep, and wise men offering gifts to the newborn king. Nativity scenes also reveal the charming nature of the event that would alter the cosmic course of history. This Christmas I would remind you that the first Christmas was anything but merry or bright.
Jesus was born an illegitimate child, according to his peers, to Joseph and Mary, a poor couple from an undesirable neighborhood. In order to prevent their newborn from being slaughtered at the hands of Herod the Great, the migrants smuggled the infant across the Egyptian border until it was safe to return to Israel. Growing up in Nazareth Jesus would, no doubt, have been relentlessly teased as a child for being poor and having a “scandalous” mother. This reality brings a whole new meaning to “treat others the way you want to be treated” (Luke 6:31). This is the harrowing tale of Christmas, the colossal event often referred to as the Incarnation. In this way God joins the human race to demonstrate His unending love and offer His perfect peace.
The story of Christmas is not as pretty as we present in children’s plays or pose in our nativity scenes. It is a frightening tragedy. The Christmas story should even challenge our own preferred holiday traditions. When we swipe our credit card to purchase that final stocking stuffer, are we sharing the Christmas spirit? What about when we order that Barbie doll for that special girl in our life, you know the one who already has 14 Barbie dolls? Is this how Jesus really wants us to celebrate his birthday? Some say we should make every effort to “put Christ back in Christmas,” but I wonder if we have corrupted Christmas to the point where Jesus would rather sit the holiday out. “Let Satan have this one,” I can imagine Jesus saying.
Christmas is a vital part of God’s redemptive plan for humanity. Christmas calls us to worship God, welcome the stranger in our midst, root out prejudices, and love others like God loves us. Christmas is an invitation to Trust God, Bless Others, and Celebrate Grace. Only when we do this do we reclaim the theological truth and the spirit of Christmas. Merry Christmas!