We’d all like our Christmases to fit quaintly, picturesquely, onto a holiday postcard. A fresh layer of snow blanketing the ground, and spread perfectly, like icing, on every ledge of the house. Warm light glowing from the windows. The scent of apples, cinnamon, and warm meat lingering, enticingly, in the air. All the family gathered happily ‘round the fire or the tree. And, of course, cards mailed and presents bought and wrapped, well in advance! This is Christmas, as many of us envision it. It’s certainly how I like my late Decembers to look and feel. I long for my family to have our own little “silent night, holy night” on which “all is calm, all is bright.”
But maybe I import a little of my own Christmas longings, expectations, and traditions into the scene in Bethlehem. For, while there surely were parts of that holy night that fit right in with Joseph Mohr’s famous description of it (“silent”, “calm”, and “bright”) … let us also remember that, for Mary and Joseph, the night was probably less-than-quaint in a good many ways, too! They were living out of a suitcase on that holy night in Bethlehem. And few of us like to do that. Let’s not forget, either, that Mary was nine months pregnant, which comes with its own set of discomforts (which are usually not the portrait of Christmas cheer and charm, for the mother!). And that’s before we think about the process of actually giving birth! Remember, too, that things hadn’t quite worked out as well as the young couple might have hoped with the whole lodging situation. And so they weren’t staying at the Holiday Inn, or at a warm little cottage is the snowy woods, or even at grandma’s house! Surely it was, in many ways, an awkward and uncomfortable first Christmas, there in Bethlehem! Had we lived through it ourselves, methinks it would have seemed anything but picturesque!
And yet it was into a scene like this – not the one on the postcard, but the one in which a young couple is seriously roughing it – that Christ came to be Immanuel, “God with us”! It was on an uncomfortable first Christmas that God chose to send the world His joy, and peace, and hope, and mercy, and salvation in Christ! Why? I think as a reminder that God, in Christ, offers hope in the midst of our own less-than-picturesque lives! Sin has left us roughing it! And Christ has come as a Savior, not into a scene from Currier and Ives, but into the dirty snow cast up by the ever churning wheels of our brokenness.
Does that mean I am intentionally going to try and make my Christmas more like uncomfortable Bethlehem, and less like a Thomas Kinkade painting? No! But it does mean that, if this holiday season is awkward, lonely, difficult, nerve-wracking, painful, marked by failure, or in any other way lacking in traditional charm, I need not think that I have missed Christmas. For Christmas is about the coming of Christ! And this Christ chose to show up, that first Christmas, not in the postcard, but in a scene lot more like our own scrambled Christmases than we are sometimes prone to remember! And this Christmas (as in all the other seasons of our muddled lives); this Christmas, whether “all is calm and bright” or not – and precisely because, in reality, it is not – Christ will come to His broken people still.