Christmas has a different meaning to each of us. For many of us it is a time of gathering with our families and friends. It is a day of feasting, exchanging gifts and singing carols. We embrace loved ones we haven’t seen for long periods. We laugh, share our journeys from throughout the year and talk about our resolutions for the year to come. Drinks flow until that one Uncle, who tends to usually have a little too much, inevitably falls into the table breaking the crockery and spilling drink everywhere! It is a joyous, loving day we spend watching our children excitedly unwrap their presents and eagerly await Santa’s arrival.
For many others, however, Christmas is a less joyful time of the year. Grief, loss, illness, displacement and brokenness tend to magnify the sorrow and despair in one’s heart. Christmas can be an immensely painful season. It can feel unbearably lonely and hopeless as we reflect on our lives and wonder if relief will ever come.
Christmas! What is the true meaning of Christmas?
As a child I remember being in our yearly Christmas school play where we would re-enact the story of Jesus’ birth. The story was always told of angels appearing to Mary and Joseph to bring them the wonderful news that Mary would bear a child and that he would be the world’s Saviour. The Virgin Mary becomes pregnant with the Son of God and then little baby Jesus is born, wrapped in cloth and laid in a manger.
The nativity scene was adorned with adorable, fluffy animals lying around baby Jesus. It was told that the wise men followed a bright star to come and find the child, bear Him gifts and worship Him. This heart warming version of the nativity pulled at every parent’s heart strings as songs were sung off key and Joseph forgot his lines.
The story delivered at every Christmas concert was that of an event that took place two thousand years ago. And we re-enact it until this day because its meaning serves to provide hope to each one of us.
The cute depiction of Jesus’ birth we often see in nativities is a far cry from what I imagine would have actually been the case. Jesus was born homeless into a disgraced family. Just imagine Mary of Nazareth attempting to make a case for herself by trying to convince people she was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. The punishment in first century Israel for an unwed, illegitimate, pregnant woman was death by stoning. Her case was futile in the eyes of the Jews. She was a young teenager scorned by her public. The man pledged to be married to her (Joseph) was about to walk out on her until an angel appeared to him to verify Mary’s story, and from that point on he walked with her in faith.
It was during their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Joseph and Mary had to go to register for a census, that Mary gave birth to Jesus. Nobody had room for them in Bethlehem and so Mary and Joseph found a manger to lay Jesus in. A manger where animals fed and most likely excreted. I am horrified to think of how Mary must have felt that night; a first time mother with a new born baby, with nowhere to lay Him down but in a filthy feeding trough. I can’t imagine the helplessness and desperation she must have felt.
To add insult to injury, King Herod of Judea found out by the wise men that the child called ‘King of Jews’ had been born in Bethlehem. This infuriated him and so he set out to have Jesus killed. Mary and Joseph were alerted to his plan, took Jesus and escaped on a treacherous journey to Egypt.
It blows my mind that our Lord and Saviour, born into filth and stench, from the very beginning of His earthly life was displaced, unwelcomed, vulnerable and hunted down to be killed. He was born into a life of brokenness and hate.
‘Joy to the world, The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart, prepare Him room. And heaven and nature sing’.
This would have to be one of the most loved carols sung at Christmas time. As I consider its words, I can’t help but notice that the birth of Jesus was in reality vastly contrast to the sentiment the song espouses. When Jesus was born the world was not joyful. He was despised by royalty and had a government out to kill Him. The earth did not receive Him, and nobody in Bethlehem made room for Him.
Two thousand years later we sing this song because it reminds us that our Saviour, born into a world of despair, met us in our need. Had Jesus been born to a rich family living in a castle, how would a world of brokenness identify with Him? From the humblest of earthly beginnings, he lived a noble life. He lived a life of a servant in which he was mocked and ridiculed, tormented and shamed, and yet he burned with love and forgiveness for the world until His last breath, and thereafter.
The heaviness and loneliness we experience in our lives, Jesus Himself experienced. The life He lived impeccably, he then sacrificed for our sake. His death on the cross crucified not just his flesh, but our sin. The only perfect being to walk this earth took upon Himself our imperfection, and when he rose he reunited us with perfection Himself, God. We are covered by perfect blood and as a result we can dwell in the very presence of God. It is for this reason we can have intimate relationship with Him. It is for this reason that when we are sorrowful and despaired, we can pour ourselves out to Him and know that He understands, and that He heals, and that He restores us. That is why the song declares ‘Joy to the world’. Because the very embodiment of love, perfection, peace and grace met us in our suffering and crushed the darkness of despair with the light of eternal life. And that is the greatest reason to be joyful and to be confident in what is to come.
Be encouraged this season in the hope of Christmas. Remember that Christmas day was not a glamorous, celebratory event and that much pain was withstood by Jesus and His Family. But the King of Kings, meek in His walk yet pronounced in His authority, ultimately trampled death so that we could have life and have it in abundance. He shattered the chains of bondage so that we could have freedom.
Let every heart prepare Him room. A joyful, hopeful and merry Christmas to you!
In Him was life, and that life was the Light of all mankind – John 1:4
Before long the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. – John 14:19
Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us. – Ephesians 3:20