I love Christmas lights, snowy scenes, hot chocolate, and Christmas carols… These are some of my favorite things! But as I sit down to read the familiar Christmas story once more, I notice certain unpleasant details I don’t often consider.
The fact that Mary became pregnant out of wedlock in the tiny, conservative town where she lived (estimated to be about 300 people at the time) must have been rather scandalous!
Then there was that 5 day or so donkey ride to Bethlehem when Mary was 9 months pregnant. That couldn’t have been cute or fun! Was she worried about giving birth by the side of the road?
What about the noisy and uncomfortable stable Jesus was born into? Throw in a few smelly and coarse sheep herders coming to gawk at it all… awkward… Is this God’s definition of a “special birth”?
And what happens when some strange foreigners (the magi) show up a few months later making everyone (King Herod and company) suspicious and fearful? The visit ended in Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fleeing in the middle of the night for Egypt of all places. Jesus as a REFUGEE?
It culminates in mad King Herod massacring the baby boys of Bethlehem. This can’t be part of the Christmas story?! But it is. The one we don’t like to talk about. (Did the families who lost their babies suspect it had something to do with “that family” who suddenly disappeared before the unspeakable happened?)
As I sit warm and cozy by my yuletide log crackling away in the fire, I realize indeed that Jesus was not born into a cute little Christmas card. There was no hot chocolate served to the shepherds at the stable. Jesus was born into a dark time and his presence did not automatically make all the pain and troubles of life disappear. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had some hard circumstances to navigate. It doesn’t always make a lot of sense, humanly speaking.
But God was not surprised by any of this. The prophecies of old foretold all these events. God was prepared and He provided a way for this young family: “Joyful and pleasant moments aren’t the only ways God fulfills his purposes. The dark ones count for something too. God is doing something in the shadows even if we don’t have all the answers.” *
As I considered the Christmas story again (not the sanitized version, but the gritty one), I can’t help but be encouraged. God knows my pain and He comes to sit in it with me. My troubles may not go away, but God has an unstoppable, redemptive plan to get me through to a glorious happy ending. The process may not be cute (not likely!), or cozy (it will even at times be painful), nor will I hear angelic choirs singing in the background. I probably won’t understand much of it, but I do know He is faithful to keep all His promises no matter what. I will be okay. In fact, more than okay.
The Christmas story is proof of it.
*"Our Hope Has Come” Lifeway Women (Gorman)