December 6, 2018
Each year in mid-December, I hear people speak an honest, vulnerable truth. And that's that this time of year -- "the holidays" -- are tough on them.
For these people (and for many more people who keep such thoughts to themselves) this is not the "hap, hap, happiest time of the year." In fact, truth be told, many people almost dread Christmastime.
For many people -- whether they feel free to admit it or not -- the whole Thanksgiving-to-Christmas "holiday season" is not primarily a joyous season, but a season of increased stress, increased feelings of loneliness, and additional pressures.
I think it's important to recognize that.
But here's the thing: a major reason that people who are going through tough times at Christmastime feel that the holiday is "not for them" is that when they think of "Christmas," they are thinking of the culturalChristmas, and not the Biblical Christmas.
(I'll say it again: one of the reasons it is important to have a Bible that you actually spend time reading on a daily basis is that in doing so, you discover that the Bible is far more applicable, realistic, raw, insightful, and of practical encouragement than most churches have made it out to be.)
Read the Christmas story as it's in the gospels of Matthew or Luke, and you'll discover that the biblical story of Christmas -- the realstory of Christmas -- is radically different, far more realistic, and much more hopeful than the gauzy, commercialized, schmaltzy story of Christmas which our culture tries to force upon us.
Having a tough time at Christmas? The good news is, Christmas is NOT about neatly-attired, well-behaved, happy, affluent people opening The Perfect Gift in front of a perfectly-coifed tree in a gorgeous living room on a snowy morning surrounded by peaceful, perfectly behaved children.
No. The real Christmas story -- the one told in the Bible -- is about a young man named Joseph trying to decide what to do about the fact that the young woman named Mary to whom he was betrothed-but-not-married, had conceived a child not-his-own, and who was therefore potentially disgracefully pregnant...and to make matters worse, just when it came time for Mary to give birth, the two of were mandated by the government to travel far away from home in order to register for a census...and to make matters worse, once there, they find no place to stay, almost certainly a consequence of being poor -- there is always "room in the inn" for those with enough money -- so Mary gives birth to her first-born in a barn, and uses a feeding trough as his first crib.
This birth -- this world-changing event -- is first announced by angels, not to the rich and mighty and respected and powerful, but to the most ordinary (and even low-esteemed) working-class people of the time: shepherds, out working the night shift.
Shortly after a bizarre visit and even more bizarre gifts from magi, Joseph is warned in dream to flee their home country and become refugees in neighboring Egypt because the paranoid king Herod was about to try to kill the baby Jesus.
You see? There is nothing easy, or romantic, or commercial about the biblical story of Christmas. It is a story full of doubt, questioning, stressful travel, crushed plans, deep suspicions, and even murder.
And yet, at the same time, it is the story of Immanuel: God-with-us.
Throughout all of the biblical story, God moves, acts, protects, defends, and redeems.
Christians rejoice at Christmastime not because it has been a good year, not because things are going well in life, and not because we're surrounded by family and friends.
We rejoice at Christmastime because of Immanuel: God-with-us. We rejoice at Christmastime because of God's presence...because God is near, among us, in and among the messiness of life.
We rejoice at Christmastime because of what we are joyfully anticipating: that on that first Christmas God entered in.
So, if you're going through tough times...if you feel stressed and lonely and badgered, please know that -- unless you insist on trying to observe the cultural Christmas -- Christmastime is for you.
See you Sunday,