The weeks leading up to Christmas are supposed to be characterized by peace and joy. But in reality, many are experiencing anxiety that if left unchecked, can lead to real panic. Some will tell you that the problem is that we get too wrapped up in the worldly traditions of the season rather than its real meaning and import. I suppose that’s true enough but I think it’s more than that. The Christmas season for many is a time of nostalgia and reflection and when we compare today to our memories or expectations what we often experience is disappointment. It’s like when you were a kid and the anticipation was a lot more exciting than the reality of the big day. To compound the problem, we naturally have a tendency to only remember the good times or put a positive mental spin on a past which in reality wasn’t exactly as we remember. To help this charade along are the dozens of holiday movies and TV programs that were specifically written and staged to encourage just such a reaction. What many of us have invested in the Christmas season is more about emotion, nostalgia and meeting others expectations, than positioning ourselves to experience the peace and joy that only Christ can provide.
At the risk of sounding like a “Grinch” if you take a few minutes and reread the gospel accounts of the events leading up to the Christ child’s birth and immediately thereafter, it’s more about anxiety, fear and even panic than of peace and joy. You had Mary becoming pregnant out of wedlock and Joseph having to deal with it, along with the shepherd’s fear and near panic when confronted by heavenly messengers, for starters. I’m sure that most all of Mary and Joseph’s family members and friends were very sympathetic and understanding as well as the leaders of the synagogue they attended; right!
You have the account of the expectant parents traveling to the city of Bethlehem for the census with Mary about to give birth at any moment and once they arrived having to set up camp in a barn yard. Not to mention, Mary having to give birth as if she was one of the livestock. How much they knew at that time is unclear but it wouldn’t be long before they would discover that their earthly king, Herod, was about to commit mass murder in hope of killing their beloved toddler, Jesus. Left with no other choice, having been warned by an angel of the Lord, they would have to flee to escape the carnage and remain in hiding until the hunt for their child, Jesus, was over and Herod was dead. This didn’t happen over the course of days or even weeks or months, but was years before they could stop hiding and start living a normal life.
Talk about putting a positive spin on the events of the past, nostalgia and reshaping reality; this isn’t the Christmas story that is most often told or the one we want to remember. It is however, closer to the reality of the world we find ourselves in today. The nativity story is a beautiful narrative, but not because of the real world circumstances it describes, but rather the exit strategy that it provides for all of us. Christ’s birth was the beginning of a way for each of us to escape a world that is bent on our ultimate destruction, not unlike the exit strategy that Mary and Joseph had to accept in order to survive and protect the Savior, Jesus from a world trying to destroy Him before His time had come. Jesus would have to suffer and die, but this was not the time, the place or the circumstances that the Father intended. The message of the virgin birth is one that can provide us peace in the midst of our reality and earthly joy through serving the risen Christ. We should always remember that our ultimate reward for accepting Christ as Savior and Lord will not be fulfilled in this world, but in the world to come. The Kingdom of God is a present hope and a future reality.
As we approach the day we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, let’s try and have a realistic view of the season, not one made up of unrealistic expectations and nostalgia. Let’s not try to escape into some fantasy world, if only for a day, but instead boldly face the reality of the sinful world in which we live; making Christ our central focus and then demonstrating it by selflessly serving others. The world that Jesus was born into is the same world we live in everyday, so we have a Savior that knows our every need and temptation. That’s why we can be assured of having the strength necessary to face a new day and a new year. The promise made to Mary by God the Father, through the angel Gabriel, is the same promise that God has made to us and Jesus confirmed.
“The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you…nothing is impossible for God.’” Luke 1:33,