Summary: If your Christmas isn't coming together the way you would like, remember that our God is a God for the rough times, too. Look what Mary went through on the first Christmas.
If a good fairy appeared and said you could make a list to put together your perfect Christmas, what would you put on your list?
Every year around Christmas time we get several chances to watch various versions of Charles Dickens’ classic story about Ebenezer Scrooge and the various spirits of Christmas who help him end his mean-spirited ways. There are at least 5 Hollywood movies. We may be able to see it live on stage from a school group or professionals downtown. We can even see a cartoon starring Mr. Magoo.
And in all the productions, Ebenezer Scrooge spends Christmas Eve with a succession of spirits. Each one wakes him up, warns him about the error of his ways and takes him on a magic journey to see things from a new perspective. All he has to do is hold on to their sleeves and he enters into a new dimension. He is invisible to others. He can fly. He can travel backwards and forwards through time. He can travel through walls. He enters a new dimension.
Christmas is a lot like the sleeves of the various Christmas spirits. Anyone who is touched by Christmas is also lifted into a different dimension. I hope we are all touched by it. If Christ has been born, it gives a whole new perspective on everything. It brings us into a new dimension.
But just what is that dimension? The angels told the shepherds that the birth of Christ would bring peace. But I’m afraid that we often misunderstand what kind of peace Jesus brings to this earth. When Jesus came, did he take away everyone’s problems? Did he come to save us from any conceivable irritation? Not all all. Our Christmas carols often talk about the time of Jesus’ birth in very idealistic terms, that that night was more beautiful than other nights, that the town of Bethlehem was more beautiful than other towns, that that night was quieter than all other nights. The Christmas carol, “Away in a Manger,” says,
“The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.”
Now for anyone who has raised a baby, that sounds heavenly. But I’m sure that little baby Jesus cried like other babies. If he didn’t cry when he was hungry, Mary wouldn’t know when to feed him. If he didn’t cry when he needed to be changed, he’d probably end up with one horrible diaper rash. And I’m sure he cried when he was getting tired and cranky. He was a real baby, born into a real world. We all long for a time of escape at times, but escape isn’t the meaning of Christmas.
Jesus did not come into the best of all possible worlds, totally calm and peaceful, safe and secure. He came into a profoundly fallen world and a very difficult world, not that much different from ours. And he came precisely because it was fallen and dirty and painful, not because it was so nice and sweet.
Is your Christmas coming together a bit ragged? Are some family members not getting along? Are there some things you’d like to do but you can’t afford them this year? Are you feeling stressed out trying to get it all done?
Sometimes we get so discouraged because our world doesn’t measure up to what we think it should be. It can feel like our world is just too tough for God to handle, that God isn’t doing his job right.
So, what was the world really like when Jesus was born? Was it really all that peaceful? Was it really all that different from our world today?
Our scripture lesson for today is Luke 2:1-7.
1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Was that an ideal world? No.
We say that one of the most inevitable circumstances of our world is that we have to pay taxes. Nobody likes tax time. Did they pay taxes in Jesus’ time? That was probably one of the reasons that the Romans called for the census, to figure out how much tax money they would squeeze out of each district.