A New Appreciation of Christmas

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?

12 thoughts on “A New Appreciation of Christmas”

  1. Thanks, Jim, for reminding me that out of pain comes power. Your words are power-ful.

    And they remind me of my own feelings toward the end of my first year as a divorced woman – as we approached the Christmas celebration. I was glad to have survived that tough year. My sense was that the next year might be a bit easier – and at the same time, my feelings about ‘life’ getting easier were mixed. I anticipated a sense of loss (that did come) as I felt I was moving into a new space when I would not feel as close to God every minute of the day as I had that awful year when I clung tight to God’s neck every moment for my survival. One of the great gains of loss can be an awe-ful intimacy with God.

    I’m struggling in some ways as the Day approaches again this year. Thank you for reminding me that I can climb into the chest pocket of God’s red plaid flannel shirt at any moment and ride around safe and secure where I can hear his heartbeat.

    Peace & Unreasonable Joy.

  2. Dear Jim,
    Great word. Thank you for the spiritual direction. May we together know the peace and love of Christ, Doug

  3. Jim…you never cease to amaze me with what you write…your depth…and the spiritual truths. This has been a hard year for us in our own way but especially financially. The tree is bear of gifts compared to previous years but I have no regrets in that. Thats not what it is about. I think we shall read this to the girls when we gather as a family to celebrate Christ birth. I find this to be so very good. Thank you friend. Blessings~Pamela

  4. Jim,

    Thank you for your thoughts on the birth of Jesus. One thing I have always found interesting is that the Innkeeper who lets Mary and Joseph stay at the Stable is kind. I have always been doubtful of this. The town was full of people looking for a room – business was booming. Why, oh why, would he have been kind;yes, God certainly could have moved on the man’s heart – still.
    God Bless you and your family this season.

  5. Jim,
    Thanks for stopping by. Tell your family hello for us.
    Please stop by when you are in the area,
    We love you and look forward to seeing Lois in heaven some day.
    God Bless.
    Dick and Betty

  6. Thank you for the message that you so pointedly made in this writing.
    God Bless you and your entire family!

    Terri and Tom

  7. Hi Jim,
    What a wonderful message you have written for all of us to be blessed.
    I am so thankful for the body of Christ during our mountains and valleys. They come in all forms, but each of us have them.
    I trust for the Love of God to surround you and your family in this New Year 2010. May you behold the glory of His Presence in your everyday living and be richly renewed in His Word. Sincerely, Donna

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