A Real Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you be of good cheer
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

What do you think of when you hear the word “Christmas”? The nativity story, angels, and a stable? A decorated tree, presents and family? Christmas memories and expectations can so embed themselves in our psyches that it can be hard to gain perspective. It took decades for me to peel the layers of culture and nostalgia wrapped so tightly around my understanding of Christmas and begin to think deeply about what took place on that night 2,000 years ago.

It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap-happiest season of all

We cling to our childhood stories long into adulthood because they can form a buffer between us and the harshness of the details; between us and our own suffering and disappointment. As a mother, I wanted to shield my children from the harder parts of the Christmas story in order to create memories untainted by ugly truths. So we focused on singing angels, wondering shepherds and a miraculous star. The familiar story reminds us all that one day goodness and beauty broke into history to show us the way home.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be much mistltoeing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It’s the most wonderful time of the year*

But on the other side of that was a peasant girl, exhausted and crying out with the pains of birth, attended by a man shamed by his inability to provide a decent place for God to be born. There was blood and dirt and rags for wrapping. A feeding trough.

Jesus’s coming was magnificent and miraculous. It was also raw, painful and dangerous.

We talk about confirmations of his deity in the great temple as Joseph brought a poor man’s offering. A visit from foreigners bringing precious gifts. But too often we leave out the midnight escape to a foreign land while the local ruler slaughtered the little boys of Bethlehem.

We gloss over the harsh, cruel parts of the story because they don’t fit the narrative we want. But aren’t those parts the point of it all? Jesus came because we needed him – need him still, as evil rages around the globe and even in our own backyards.

We need a God who lifts our gaze to the unseen and glorious. We also need a savior who comes to us in the mud and suffering of a fearful and violent world.

Mary smothered her cries as her son was born that night, struggling in the dark stable, not knowing that angel songs filled the skies in the fields down the road. Joseph cradled his son amidst hay and dung, unaware that wise men were on their way, carrying royal gifts.

So too, we go through our days unaware of the angels just beyond our perception. We worry and despair without faith for the coming provision. So we gather our Christmas comforts, holding them close for a few weeks in December. Then we set our New Year’s goals in an attempt to control our lives in a world that is spinning ever more dangerously out of tilt.

The Jesus who was born in the dirt and darkness is the Jesus who comes to us in our own sorrows, sins and stinging regrets. Not in spite of them, but because of them. Not to make us presentable, but to make us His.

There will come a time when He returns as a mighty king, exercising justice and making all things right and new and beautiful. But for now – now he comes to us as a baby, a servant, a friend walking with us through this space between our need and our home. That’s the real Christmas: Immanuel – God With Us.

*Songwriters: Eddie Pola / George WyleIt’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year lyrics © Demi Music Corp. D/B/A Lichelle Music Company

13 thoughts on “A Real Christmas

  1. Andrea, have a glorious Christmas and all that means! Thanks for all of your thoughts and inspiration during this year and tell your family “merry Christmas” and that we love you all!!! Nick and Colleen

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