An uncomfortable Christmas
I’m a guy on the go. This is definitely apparent when driving. Wasting time I do not have is not my favorite thing to do.
I share this because I’m forever amazed at the time it takes to pass an accident on the highway. If all the drivers in all my lifetime had not literally inched along as they gawked at the wreck beside them, I’d have a total of nine years free from idle time in my car. Yes, I am all for safely slowing down around safety workers attending to an accident. This is necessary. This is humane. Consider this though, if you have not already: We can stare at others’ misfortunes as if we are watching an always painful and sometimes horrific accident scene on a local TV news station.
Having shared this, the birth in Bethlehem story as shared in the Gospel of Luke is not sweet. If we passersby are going to look at something, we should look at where Mary, this first-time young mother, delivers the Son of God. The unexpected and likely unwelcomed destination is not due to her bad decisions. For example, she didn’t avoid God like Jonah and end up in a fish for three days. This animal narrative had nothing to do with what she had or had not done. We can pacify this nativity set as serene, even peaceful. Even if we ignore our infectious disease professionals and all our modern-day cleaning marvels, a fact remains. This scene is raw and rough.
Think on these four words. Birth in a barn. Now picture this. Having just arrived, some shepherd, who was truly an unexpected stranger, likely took a sideways glance and, none too clean himself, wondered when that nearby stall was last cleared out.
The humility and foreshadowing of our Savior being born into this scene cannot be ignored. That the King of all Kings begins human life in this place remains the divine plan to rescue humanity from its perpetual sins. With or without our gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we are wise when we consider how we’ve been sedated by satiated lavish Christmas Eve dinners, flickering Advent candles, swooning nostalgic carols, and the literal warmth of the decked-out sanctuary on Christmas Eve. Does this sound a bit too cozy? It should. We should be looking at this picture of this mother, father and newborn in the harsh reality truly represented. While this birth narrative is completely, divinely planned and even blessed by God and a multitude of angels do sing from above, think about this: Nothing about this story is comfortable. When we look at this pandemic Christmas 2020, should anything truly be comfortable for us?
During our congregation’s Unmasking Christmas series this past month, I preached on Mary. After this young woman receives from the Angel Gabriel the incredible/impossible news that she’ll be carrying the Son of God in her own virgin womb, she may have begun to do what we all do, and that’s imagine. God’s only child within her? When she dreamed of her time to deliver the baby, think. Did she picture the grandeur of a resort that included endless warm towels and topnotch wait staff, or, in stark contrast, did she envision overbooked lodging sites, grounding difficulties and unwelcomed surprises?
Here’s the likely answer to that last question. In addition to the wait staff, she, who like all of us was chosen by God for specific ministry moments, may likely have imagined a seasoned nurse (or two!) nearby.
Nowhere does scripture report that Mary receives a debriefing of any kind on the big star, the innkeeper or the shepherds. As resolute and as down-to-earth as she must have been; she was, after all, chosen for this role; I doubt she could have imagined how this birth would happen. Delivering her firstborn whose first crib is an animal trough could not have been her first thought or wish. The verse in Luke speaking of her heart being pierced happens 8 days after Jesus’ birth, not 8 days before (Luke 2:35).
We are no strangers to discomfort this year. Uncertainty is familiar. Yet we, like Mary, can face and openly receive a God-given Christmas much like the first one. How? We realize control is His, not ours. What befalls us does not have to make us fall.
Here’s the truth. This Christmas will likely be a stretch or a strain. It may be even painful in that a sword is somehow piercing our hearts. These days ahead are certainly nothing we could have predicted on or near December 25, 2019. Scripture lives, however. Specifically, scripture lives in you. We Christians aren’t called into comfort; we are called to Christ. Christmas 2020 does not have to be a drive-by where we inch past a painful roadside scene. Rather, the very real hurts and hardships we are experiencing can further shape us into being the followers we are called to be.
This blog first appeared in The Susquehanna Independent on December 9, 2020.