Often when we think of Christmas and its meaning, we use words like joy, happiness, peace. It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction of what Christmas is supposed to be. But if we take a step back, we realize that isn’t always the experience for many people. We know many people have a hard time at Christmas, and we ourselves might find it disappointing if not downright painful.
In fact, if we go back to the first Christmas, it would be hard to see much joy, happiness, or peace for many of the people involved. Mary was a pregnant, teen mother surrounded by gossip about her infidelity to her finacé, Joseph. And it wasn’t just the painful words. She could have been killed for what the townspeople supposed she’d done if Joseph had wanted it.
She gave birth, without a mother or midwife, in a dirty, animal holding pen. And then shortly after, her new little family was fleeing for their lives from King Herod. The same Herod who ordered all of the babies in the surrounding area killed in an attempt to kill her baby. The immense sorrow of those families that first Christmas is unimaginable.
For the rest of her son’s life, Mary would hear the whispers about His illegitimacy and her character. And then the whispers became shouts as people questioned Jesus’ sanity and His audacity to say He was the Messiah. Even her other children mocked Him. And then He died a painful, humiliating criminal’s death.
In the quiet moments, when she reflected on the day the angel told her she would bear the Savior her people had been waiting thousands of years for, she must have questioned God’s purpose and her role. And when she said she was the Lord’s servant, she had no idea what she was getting into or the incredible pain that would accompany her obedience.
So who was celebrating that first Christmas? Who was joyful? Those with a heavenly perspective. The angels. The first angel, the messenger, said to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” And the host, the heavenly army, said, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
The angels had a different perspective than Mary, Joseph, the families who lost their babies, us. The angels knew that Jesus was born on a dirty floor, amongst animals and their food and waste because that’s what He came to save us from. He comes into our mess. He doesn’t wait for us to get cleaned up and get ready for Him, like we would have to if he had been born in a palace or a temple. He specializes in coming into dirty, painful situations to walk along side us, to provide us hope and deliverance. His name, Immanuel, means “the with us God.” He is truly with us in every situation.
We don’t have the perspective of the angels. We are in the middle of our messes, pain filled and hurting. Our messes have no tidy solution in sight. Our pain has no end. We can’t see the joy, peace, and hope that God has promised to His children. That takes an eternal perspective. But our God walks with us through it all. And that is where we find the true joy, peace, and hope of the season. Our God was born into a mess so He can walk with us through our messes and pain. And that’s why we can rejoice this season.