Just a few weeks ago, my wife said to me, “Every time someone watches a Christmas movie before Thanksgiving, an elf kills a reindeer.” She feels pretty strongly about when the Christmas season does and does not begin. As for me, I’m ready to put up the tree and start watching Elf in September.
Needless to say, the jury is out on exactly when the Christmas season begins, but I do believe that I’m safe in suggesting that the time has officially arrived now that we are into the month of December.
One of the many things that I love about the Christmas season is Jesus’ birth narrative. I have sometimes wondered why the gospel writers go out of their way to tell us the circumstances in which Jesus was born (at least Matthew and Luke). We do know, however, that in the time and place of Jesus’ birth (and even before that), if the person’s birth narrative was recorded, they are probably pretty important (think of Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Samuel). Jesus certainly fits this criteria.
One of the themes in Jesus’ birth narrative is Joseph and Mary’s great struggle in the events leading up to his birth. For starters, they would have been marginalized by their community because of Mary’s pregnancy out of wedlock (try explaining immaculate conception to your neighbors and family).
On top of feeling alienated, they had to travel by foot to Bethlehem while Mary is very pregnant. I had a friend in college who drove his car a half-mile to the fitness center on campus twice a week in order to attend his required-for-graduation walking class. Sorry, Mary.
Not only this, but they are not going to Bethlehem to eat fruitcake and Christmas ham with family and friends. Rather, they are going because their oppressive foreign government mandated it for tax purposes! Then, to add insult to injury, they arrive at the inn and there is no room for them so they have to move in with the animals.
Does it get any worse than this? Mary and Joseph must have been scratching their heads saying, “How exactly is this a blessing, God?” Have you ever wondered that? Sometimes when God asks us to do something, or to represent him, or testify to his faithfulness to the world, it feels like nothing more than a burden.
Thankfully, the story does not end there. In the midst of all the trouble, the difficulty, struggle, and frustration, Jesus, the hope of the world, is born. What a message. These are precisely the kind of circumstances in our lives that Jesus wishes to enter into. It is during the heartaches of life, the moments of confusion, fear, doubt, and struggle that Jesus appears and turns our suffering into everlasting joy.
This is an invitation. This holiday season, in the midst of the stress, anxiety, and struggle, Jesus invites us to find peace in his presence. He invites us to dwell with him in his peace and allow him to lift the burden and abide in the gift of his love.