The closer we get to Christmas day the more impatient I’m becoming with well-meaning people who are attempting to tell me how I should feel – or at the very least, how they think I should feel. Some of these wonderful friends are speaking out of their own pain and loss and experience but others are making assumptions. So, would you allow me to get on a gift-wrapped soap box for a few paragraphs? If you are one of those who have so kindly called or written, please don’t take offense. My feelings aren’t hurt.
The birth of Christ was not a time of sentiment with warm fuzzy feelings, hot cocoa, a nice orchestra, and lots of food. Joseph and Mary were under the King’s orders to travel to Bethlehem and it was a grueling journey. For three to five days Mary – who was about to have a baby – walked, rode, and stumbled along a path.
There were no Super 8 motels along the way, no paved road, no rest areas with toilets. They must’ve stopped often looking for a tree or rock Mary could lean against to urinate. Most likely they looked in vain for clean, fresh water using only what they carried in old, stinky skins or moldy jars. The risk of thieves, storms, and cold only added to the discomfort of the impending labor and birth of Mary’s first child.
Was her mother there? A sister maybe? Probably not since Mary got pregnant out of wedlock and brought shame on her whole family, they most likely stayed away as if she’d had leprosy. We know there wasn’t a hospital; instead they found themselves in a stable. No running water, no electricity, no space heater to chase away the chilly night air. There were “meadow muffins” and “cow pies” on the ground and some of them were fresh enough to throw off steam – the smell must’ve been overwhelming.
The whole situation was untenable. None of us would’ve stuck it out. We can’t even begin to imagine the pain and disappointment and loneliness. Mary and Joseph must certainly have wondered where God was in all this. Why now? Why here? We could go on to describe the poverty, hardship and rejection that Joseph and Mary and Jesus endured in those first few days but nothing we can imagine comes close.
This year God is allowing me a new appreciation for the incarnation. It was far from romantic, nostalgic and sentimental. The events surrounding the birth of Jesus were difficult and full of disappointment and pain. Christmas has taken on a new, deeper meaning. If Mary and Joseph and even Jesus as a baby were not spared hardship and difficulty, why would I expect anything else?
I can’t explain away the reality of grief or the myriad of ways I miss Lois but I do know that God is more real than I have ever experienced. His presence and power shove the clichés out of the way and strengthen my resolve to “come near to God “so He will “come near to” me. (see James 4:8)
When Paul wrote in Romans 8 that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ – not "trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword" – he was writing to me and you. Yes, he was also referring to struggles that were dangerously real to him but those words are for me. We are more than conquerors in hardship and sorrow, not because it isn’t painful, nor because God will somehow make it vanish, but because none of these things can take away what we have of God through Jesus Christ. God’s love and presence and comfort is more permanent than famine or suffering. It’s stronger than death, as unyielding as the grave. How do I put this in writing without tears and trembling? How do I explain this new appreciation of Christmas?