Sunday, December 2nd begins the Advent season. A frenetic month of shopping, decorating, baking, gift wrapping and let’s not forget traveling, visiting, and did I mention shopping. Despite all of the trappings of consumeristic Christmas, I happen to love this season, always have, and despite the many differing beliefs in our national landscape, it seems to me that people are generally filled with more ‘joy’ than usual in the month of December. I can’t help but wonder, do I, as a Christian have a naïve outlook on this particular holiday season? In spite of my rather unscientific claim of “it seems that people are generally filled with more ‘joy’ than usual”, the reality for many is one of extreme hardship during this (or any) Christmas season.
Regardless of the nature of the hardship, many people will view the Christmas season not as a season of joy, but rather a season of increased anxiety, despair or depression. The normal burdens of life when working in concerto with the increased anxieties of a holiday season can and often do exasperate a person who is emotionally and mentally healthy, how much worse is it for the friend, family member or co-worker who is battling daily just trying to ‘get by’? As I consider this very real situation in contrast to the birth narrative of the baby Jesus, I see a cast of characters who dealt with more anxiety and despair than they did of the emotion of joy.
Joseph, the father of Jesus, was conspiring to divorce Mary privately. Mary gave birth in an animal’s pen to baby Jesus and had to lay him in a food trough. The three Magi only wanted to pay honor to the birth of the ‘king of the Jews’ but had to deal with wicked King Herod who openly practiced murder on his own family members and would shortly attempt genocide by killing all Jewish boys under the age of two, which also made Joseph flee his homeland with Mary and Jesus with no job or connections in Egypt. The shepherds, who were working the 3rd shift (midnights) receive a visit from an angel of the Lord, and it fills them initially with fear! After being reassured by the angel to ‘fear not’ they travel to Bethlehem and visit Joseph and Mary, telling them all that had happened. And they glorified and praised God for all that they had seen and heard, as they returned to their 3rd shift of watching sheep.
When we view the birth of Jesus in this manner, we see that mostly it was without joy, that the burdens of every day living probably were even greater than what many of us experience today. But yet, here we are, spreading Christmas cheer as if it is some mythical force which suddenly makes all things better, if only for a few weeks.
But is it really mythical? I suppose if we view Christmas from a secular world view, then indeed this “joy” is temporal, or not at all. But when we celebrate Christmas in that we are honoring the birth of Jesus Christ, then suddenly our perspective changes. When we read the Gospels, only Matthew and Mark record the narrative of the birth of baby Jesus. It is in those narratives where thy mysteries uttered by the prophets so long ago are finally revealed. The Messiah, that every God-fearing Hebrew had long anticipated bursts into the world in a most unusual and unexpected way. But it is in the Gospel of John where we read of the significance of this event; “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be save through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:17-18)
It is this event that I celebrate every year during December. The food, fellowship, gifts and laughter are by-products of this event, in and of themselves they provide little and represent even less (not that I am suggesting that fellowship and laughter are not needed and welcome), but it is because of the birth of Jesus Christ that making merry has any real significance at all. And yes, after the holiday season a cynical, hurting, sinful world does return to what they were doing. The 3rd shifts still calls many to the midnight routines, the sick are still sick, the depressed still depressed and the despaired still despairing. But it doesn’t need to be this way, (except for maybe that 3rd shift thing);
The birth of Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords is my rock, placed a long time ago on the bank of the river Jordan. It is from this grand event that I draw a plum line all the way through history straight into my walk of faith today. it is this starting point that gives me hope, fills me with joy, and makes my paths straight, in spite of my own efforts to veer left or right. It doesn’t mean that I still don’t struggle daily, that I don’t battle with anxiety, or sickness or the ever-imminent threat of losing loved ones. This is the world that we live in, the sinful nature of all of us is the very reason that we do have a daily struggle (but that’s another topic for another day).
This Christmas season, like every Christmas season, I celebrate with joy! Joy because God sent Christ Jesus down for me, joy because He set me free, joy because He will come again, joy because He calls me His friend!