…and they shall call him Emmanuel which means “God is with us.”
Not merry, not festive, not fun or happy. I wonder where we got the idea that Christmas is supposed to be so full of good times and picturesque moments. Unplanned pregnancy. Relationship struggles. Giving birth on the ground in a dirty and inhospitable environment. Unexpected visitors at every turn. Nothing going the way a person might plan or hope.
We have romanticized and commercialized the details until we really have perhaps forgotten the real grit of the Christmas story. As a mom who went through pregnancies with complications, I found out, just like Mary did, that we don’t get to control the script of our lives, our family life. Instead of picture perfect moments the truth that the Christmas story reveals is that real life is filled with unexpected and unwished for difficulties and hardships. Certainly if Mary had been able to choose, she wouldn’t have chosen that birth on the hard floor of a barn far from home and family.
In this Christmas season, real life and real struggles abound: uncertainty and fear, job worries and financial struggles, relationship discord and broken hearts, wandering children and fractured hopes, wounded spirits and the stab of injustice, illness, disease and the pain of loss. Many among us struggle to feel joyful as the hardships of real life press in upon the Christmas of tinsel and cookies and shopping and parties.
But that is not the real Christmas. The pumped up Christmas letter and picture perfect photos are not the real Christmas. The real Christmas is an upset applecart of unexpected, unplanned, unchosen situations for its human participants. In all that was not wished for or chosen, we find the real Christmas. A crying infant who needed to be fed and diapered and held.
God with us.
That is the Christmas that matters, the Christmas that changes everything. Unfortunately, Christians often end up believing that Jesus meant an end to the mess and the chaos and great disappointments that real life throws at us. Instead, what the Christmas story so vividly illustrates is that we don’t get to choose our way out of the pains and the hardships of the birth story. But no matter where we find ourselves, no matter the hurt or the disappointment, the hardship or struggle, that baby was born so we could be sure that “God is with us.” We are NEVER alone.
And that is our own birth story into new life. God is with us and with the presence of Perfect Love, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will have the grace and the courage to keep living our real and messy and un-festive lives with love and grace and kindness honoring that baby who came to show us what real life, real love and real Christmas is all about.