Summary: Is has always been hard to get to Bethlehem for Christmas.
A Charlie Brown Christmas opens with Charlie Brown talking to his best friend Linus. "I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel. I just don't understand Christmas. I guess I like getting presents, sending Christmas card, and decorating tree, and all that, but I'm still not happy." Linus turns to him, "Charlie Brown, you are the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem." Linus then leads him down to the pond where the others are skating. "Look, Charlie Brown, those kids are forgetting their problems, so why don't you forget yours?"
If it were only that simple. But I'm afraid that more of us feel like Charlie Brown than Linus. Just because the calendar announces that it is once again Advent - does not mean that all of our problems magically disappear like Santa up the chimney again. No things don't get better at Christmas time - in fact - sometimes they get worse. For many people, Advent and Christmas is the most stressful time of the year. Time, money and patience seem in short supply at the holiday season. There is too much activity crammed in too little time. Can you identify with one writer's words? "...a final month of frenzied shopping, holiday headaches and heartburn, economic homicide (that is, a willing sacrificing your bank account), a ten pound weight gain, endless renditions of the same one dozen Christmas songs...suicidal shopping mall traffic, and a general atmosphere of surliness, desperation, depression, anxiety and rage..." Compound all that with the problems that have been around from the days, weeks and months before and you have a prescription for burnout or flameout as the case may be. Throw in sickness, death of a loved one, the accompanying loneliness and it can be a killer combination. The hit movie by Tim Burton may have hit the nail on the head - "The Nightmare Before Christmas!"
Is it really any wonder that it is hard for some people to get into the holiday mood? The Thanksgiving turkey is still being used as leftovers and we are supposed to get ready for Christmas? I agree with Charlie Brown - sometimes its pretty hard to get in the Christmas Spirit. It seems that the specialness of this time is so often swallowed up in the hassle of it all. If the truth be told, we must admit that there are going to be some problems getting from here to the Bethlehem in time for Christmas.
Then of course getting to Bethlehem has never been easy has it? Consider Mary and Joseph. As you well know it is difficult for a young couple to get started out - even in the best of times. And these were not the best of times. Israel is chafing under the iron yoke of an occupying Roman army. The people are being taxed heavily to provide for the military expeditions of Caesar in Rome. Zealots and patriots are taking to the hills to wage guerilla warfare. Priests and Levites are trading political favors and corruption is reaching the local levels of government. The national scene threatens to bubble over into open revolt. And even away from Jerusalem, things are not much better in the little town of Nazareth. A town of just 200, it struggles to survive economically. Joseph is an over-worked and under-paid carpenter. He is barely able to provide for his new wife. She who is with child. And the circumstances surrounding the marriage and Mary's pregnancy is grist for the local gossip mill. The whispered comments do not go unheard by this sensitive teenage girl. And it is hard to keep a low profile in a one horse town - when the one horse has up and died. Now to add to their troubles, Caesar Augustus has decide to add a new tax. A new tax that will be assessed in the place of family origin. In Joseph's case - Bethlehem. Only a short 100 miles as the crow flies. So in her ninth month, Mary is loaded on to the back of a donkey and goes over hill and through valley for a solid week only to find out that there is no room at the Inn! And you think your Christmas is going to be tough! Friends, there is no way to romanticize that first Christmas. The shepherds may have got the singing angels, but all Mary and Joseph got was the sweat, the straw and the stench.
Well, that isn't entirely true. They got something else. They got a promise. "What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins...and they will call him Immanuel - which means, "God with us." How did they put up with all the hassles, the snide remarks, the headaches and the heartaches that went with that first Christmas? They held on to the promise. The promise that God was at work in their world. At work behind the scenes of history - bringing everything together at just the right time, in just the right place, in just the right way.