here I was, minding my own business as a happy 8-year-old. Stretching out on the floor of our living room, I looked up through the fragrant, brightly decorated Christmas tree and relished the fantasy of the season. There were no “visions of sugar plums” dancing in my head, but I was dreaming about the special toys I hoped to find inside the colorfully wrapped boxes.
My Christmas tranquillity was shattered with the news, “Your cousins are coming over for Christmas.” I was shocked into reality check, pondering the consequences of their arrival. Whenever and wherever these juvenile delinquents appeared, someone was going to get hurt and things were going to get broken (that year, one of my prized Christmas gifts!). Thankfully, Mom and Dad had a way of easing the heartache and helping me get past the pain of early “Christmas realities.” I smile about it now, but it wasn’t funny then!
On a harsh night in Bethlehem, a much more serious reality was developing. At the end of a rugged and involuntary road trip, two brave souls made their way through a crowded city. A baby was on the way, and the expectant mother needed a safe, clean
place for the night. After a dangerous and difficult journey of 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary were shut out. They were met with the hard reality of “No Vacancy” in the inn.
Unexpected, unpleasant, and even life-threatening situations may come our way in the Christmas season. Although we wish for a perfect Christmas, our lives are filled with real-world struggles. Like Joseph and Mary encountering no room in the inn, we may find ourselves facing other “ins” of Christmas realities.
Indifference and Intolerance
Caught up in their own struggles and the web of consumerism, people around us may offer a cold shoulder to the biblical message of Christmas. We sorrow for the spiritual apathy and lukewarm attitude in our adult children, siblings, other relatives, coworkers, and neighbors. Sometimes, indifference may even be accompanied with intolerance.
Some who appear indifferent and intolerant may simply be unaware of the basic truths of the Gospel. Pastor James
Kennedy of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church related the story of a young couple who were blessed with their first baby at Christmastime. They had recently accepted Christ and wanted to send a different kind of birth announcement to her agnostic, secular parents who lived across the country. Seeking to incorporate a biblical witness, their telegram stated (in King James English), “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given—Isaiah 9:6.”
The new grandfather was confused about the meaning. He turned to his wife and said, “Well, they had the baby . . . it’s a boy …he weighs 9 pounds and 6 ounces…but why in the world did they call him ‘Isaiah’ ”?
Biblically literate believers may laugh at the story of someone so clueless at Christmas. Remember, however, that all of us were once “alienated and hostile in mind” toward God (Col. 1:21 NASB).
That is why we cannot be deterred or discouraged at the apparent indifference and outright intolerance of others at Christmas. We must keep the narrative alive, telling the story of Jesus Christ, and celebrating the Christian heritage of our holiday celebration. Christmas is prime time “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).
Inconvenience and Insecurity
With the inconveniences of fatigue, discomfort, and rejection that night in Bethlehem, there was room for insecurity and fear in the hearts of Mary, a teenage mother, and Joseph, the earthly guardian of a helpless infant. God understood the inner thoughts, restlessness, and insecurity in Joseph’s heart and mind and had already spoken to him through an angel in a dream. “Joseph son of David,” the Lord reassured him, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20 NIV).
Mary also had her human frailties. After the angel Gabriel’s appearance and greetings to her, “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God’” (Luke 1:29-30 NIV). Scott Harrup reflects upon her possible thoughts and responses:
Did Mary struggle to see God’s hand when she and Joseph were forced to travel at the end of her pregnancy? Did she feel with apprehension the impending pain of birth as they fruitlessly sought accommodations for the night? Did she question the contrast between Bethlehem’s primitive nursery and the eternal Son of God born and placed in its manger? A young girl carried the weight of her maternal mission in the midst of chaos (“Have a Mary Christmas,” Pentecostal Evangel).
In this Christmas season, as always, we do not need to fear bad tidings: a disheartening doctor’s report, a financial downturn, a struggling marriage, trouble with our kids and grandkids. The Bible promises believers, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). The Amplified New Testament reads, “But [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind.”
As young missionaries in Germany, Janice and I approached the Christmas of 1979 filled with anticipation of another beautiful Advent in this land of holiday traditions. Just three days before Christmas, however, our world was turned upside-down. The overseas phone call came at 4:00 a.m. with the stunning news of my mother-in-law’s death in a car accident.
Moving to the living room of that small village apartment, we sought God in prayer. The comfort of His response was, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa. 43:1-3 NKJV). God’s power and presence were real in the midst of our insecurity, pain, and loss.
Insufficiency and Inadequacy
Even though they were chosen by God and responded with consecrated obedience, both Mary and Joseph struggled with feelings of insufficiency and inadequacy. The challenges and struggles of life come our way and we sometimes wonder if we are up to the task, especially when we are tempted to compare ourselves with others.
At Christmas, we can be tempted to indulge in self-doubt as we compare what we perceive to be strengths in others to our own admitted weaknesses. Others have a way of affording the “perfect” Christmas gift; someone else is viewed as the ultimate holiday cook and home decorator. They seem to have it all together while we deem ourselves insufficient and inadequate.
Christians in Corinth were preoccupied with their own accomplishments and comparing one “great” minister to another. The apostle Paul bluntly told them, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant. . . . We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 3:5-6; 4:7 NKJV).
God’s Answer: Incarnation and Immanuel
Christmas realities—indifference and intolerance, inconvenience and insecurity, insufficiency and inadequacy—threaten to steal our joy, take away our hope, and turn Christmas into a dreadful and trying season. God, however, has proactively answered every one of the holiday “ins.”
God’s answer is an event called the Incarnation, and a Redeemer called Immanuel. The life-changing Christmas reality is, “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us” (John 1:14 NIV). At His miraculous birth, Jesus was named “Immanuel . . . God with us” (Matt. 1:23 NKJV).
God in Christ lived among us! He was not remote and aloof but fully present in all the realities of life. Jesus experienced the pain and pathos of the human condition. With full empathy and understanding of every life situation, He is our sympathetic and faithful High Priest (Heb. 2:16-17; 4:15).
His incarnation includes the promise to indwell all who receive Him and give them everlasting life—“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Conversely, “It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:30 NIV). Christ is in us, and we are in Christ!
When Christmas realities come our way, God promises, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7 NIV). As we live out our new life in Christ, “the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress” and “prays for us” (Rom. 8:26 NLT).
You may struggle, even suffer, this Christmas season, but God promises, “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18 NIV). This is the ultimate and eternal Christmas reality!