Most of us have a vision in our minds of the perfect Christmas: family gathered around, a clean and sparkling house, a beautifully adorned Christmas tree with piles of lovingly chosen presents underneath, a feast for the eyes and the table, scents of roasting turkey or ham, pumpkin pies, apple cider, everyone marvelously getting along like the end of a made-for-TV movie.
But what if that’s not reality this year?
What if one member is in prison? Or the hospital? Or overseas or across the country? Or in heaven?
What if a lost job or a major medical expense has led to a depleted bank account and bare cupboards?
What if grief overshadows joy?
Is Christmas then ruined?
Let’s go back to that first Christmas.
Mary and Joseph away from home in a strange city. They did not have a beautifully decorated house: they did not even have a hotel room. The only scents of the season were those of nearby animals. Mary, as a young, first-time mother, did not have the blessing of a modern hospital and sanitary conditions, a skilled nursing staff and childbirth training. Giving birth was painful and messy. If Joseph was her lone attendant, he would have been out of his element helping a woman deliver a baby. Perhaps he was dismayed or frustrated that he could not provide better for her in her moment of need. And after the blessed relief of a healthy child safely born, there was little acknowledgment of this Child. The shepherds, Simeon and Anna, and, later on, the wise men rejoiced in who He was. But soon the young parents would face the danger of a king bent on killing the Child in their care. Mary’s reputation would suffer as many thought her Child was illegitimate. The ominous promise hung over her head that a sword would pierce through Mary’s own soul.
What did Mary and Joseph have then, that lonely, uncomfortable, smelly night? They had the Child of promise. A Child whom they were told to name Jesus, which means “Jehovah saves.” His very name is a promise. He would reconcile them to God by taking care of their greatest need: He would “save His people from their sins.” They had the realization that this Child was the long-awaited and longed-for Messiah, the King, the Son of the Highest. What cause for joy and wonder! They had no idea how it would all work out. But they had the promise, and because of the promise, they had hope.
It’s certainly not wrong to enjoy a decorated tree, presents, wonderful food, and family gathered. But we can celebrate Christmas even all of those elements are missing or less than ideal. We can celebrate in our own hearts and with those around us that same promise, that same hope. Like Mary, we can treasure these things and ponder them in our hearts. Like the shepherds, we can make “known the saying that had been told them concerning this child” and go back to daily life “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2: 17-20). If all we have is faith in Jesus’ fulfillment of the hope and promise of that first Christmas, we are blessed indeed.
(Revised from the archives)