I love Christmastime, probably more than anyone I personally know. I thoroughly enjoy decorating (transforming my home for Christmas in nearly every room), listening to Christmas music 24/7 (Pandora’s instrumental holiday radio is one of my fav’s right now), giving presents (receiving presents), and all the festivities. Everything to make one get into the Christmas Spirit.
Each year I like to focus on a different aspect of the Christmas story, to learn something a bit deeper. Some years I have something in mind; some years God will surprise me with a theme. The latter is one of those years. Starting with the sermon at church on Sunday and then the next few devotionals I read, I saw a theme that I’ve never really noticed before. Pain is part of the Christmas story. Significantly. And it’s rather surprising because Christmas is so festive and we focus on the Joy & Peace, but the other is there too.
As I look at the first few characters from the Christmas story, I see their joy as well as their pain:
Zechariah and Elizabeth. The Christmas story in Luke opens with this prestigious and godly couple who had no children and were old. Then we read of the fantastic moment when an angel appeared to Zechariah telling him “your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.” Yay! Answered prayer! But how long had they been praying? When was the last time Zechariah had prayed, asking for a child? Did he eventually give up? They longed for child; their best years went by without an answer to this prayer. When they were young and newly married, they probably had dreams of the family they would raise. They stayed faithful to God, but no child came. I think about the times I have longed and waited for something, and the ache is unbearable sometimes. The years waiting for a husband, or praying for a family member to come to faith in Jesus, etc… Zechariah and Elizabeth experienced a heartache and longing that spanned their lifetime, clueless about what God was doing and was about to do.
Mary. The next scene in Luke 1 is the incredible story of the angel visiting Mary, telling this young virgin “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” and her humble reply, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” As I sit and think about Mary and the months that followed, her heartache must have been great. Who would believe her story? How frustrating it is when no one believes you, and yet she holds the greatest truth within her belly! Who could understand her? No one could relate to her even if they did believe her. The social pressure must have been intense. Girls can be brutally mean in our culture, and I bet it was no different back then. “Pious Mary, pregnant before she was married.” How did people look at her, speak to her, treat her? How much did it hurt her heart? Mary would be questioned, ridiculed, and rejected because she was misunderstood by so many who refused to believe her story. She faced the difficulties of her integrity and morality being held in question.
Skip forward in the Story, to Matthew 2 and the escape the Egypt. King Herod heard about the baby and wanted him dead, so the angel warned Joseph in a dream to flee. Now they are fugitives in a foreign land (I can barely understand that heartache). And then, what was Mary’s heartache when she heard what happened? Genocide. Soldiers came and murdered all the male babies two years old and under in the entire vicinity. . . because of her child.
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
And Joseph. The girl he loved is now pregnant, and it’s not his child. Betrayal. What was going through his mind and heart? God let him wrestle through the emotions and options, then Joseph decided to divorce her quietly. (This reflects what a humble and good man Joseph was; he could have chosen any number of options of public disgrace, revenge, even stoning Mary. But he chose not to, and it shows me why God chose him to father His Son). It wasn’t until “after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because 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.’”
Thankfully the stories don’t end at the pain. Our stories of pain never end there either. God is always at work behind the scenes, even in our pain. And that’s where the hope, joy and peace of Christmas shine the brightest!
Zechariah and Elizabeth painfully longed for a son, but eventually God blessed them with one! And not just any son, they got to be a direct part of God’s redemptive plan and raise a son who Jesus called the greatest man ever born (Luke 7:28). The forerunner to the Messiah! God chose them, but they had to wait for His perfect timing to unfold.
Mary received the greatest honor God could pay, He chose her to mother His Son! Mary knew how blessed she was and praised Him (Luke 1:46-56). God was visiting our planet, Immanuel was coming! I’m encouraged by the confirmations and encouragement she received: Elizabeth’s greeting to her, God confirming to Joseph in a dream that she was telling the truth, the shepherds and the wise men coming because God told them as well! She treasured all these things in her heart. I would too!
Even though Zechariah and Elizabeth were old, God wasn’t done with them, and He’s not done with us! As long as God has us alive, He has a plan for us. Will you respond as they did, as Mary did? Trusting in your loving Father, who is always faithful? And even in the waiting, can you find the joy of waking up each morning knowing God has a plan and is working on your behalf?
“Christmas reminds us that we can put our hope in a sure thing – the love of God—demonstrated so beautifully on that wonderful day when He came forth into our world as a babe. Because of our despair, hopelessness and helplessness He left His throne in heaven. This is the ‘good news that will bring great joy to all people’ (Luke 2:10). This is the Christmas we can all celebrate, with or without family, friends, or familiarity. This spirit of Christmas goes beyond trees, decorations, songs, and gifts to speak to our true condition. And to this we can honestly say, ‘Merry Christmas.’” (Dan Schaeffer – The Real Spirit of Christmas)