Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent more time than normal in the urgent care facility while my wife is being treated for pneumonia and the flu – all together! Maybe it’s because I am more acutely aware of aging and the challenges just since I turned 60 this year. Maybe it’s because more of the families I share life with as their pastor are sharing the painful side of their Christmas stories of step-children, step-parents, grandchildren, and the ways which family members have of hurting one another.
Whatever the reason, I have been more attuned to the painful side of Christmas. Mary and Joseph were simple, normal young adults living in Nazareth. And then…. Mary is pregnant – though she and Joseph are only betrothed and not yet married. A hastily arranged marriage because an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. A long trip to Bethlehem because some foreign ruler wanted to impose a new tax. A birth in an animal stall because the guest houses were filled with other travelers. Shepherds arriving to see the new born child because of some otherworldly angelic appearance.
A trip to Egypt to escape the wrath of a brutal and murderous tyrant. A return trip home to Nazareth with all the gossip and shame of Joseph and Mary’s predicament.
While we sing of joy the truth is Joseph and Mary may have not felt very ‘joyous’ very often. Probably they felt stress, anxiety, fear, and loneliness.
We gleefully and joyfully attend holiday parties, we exchange festively wrapped gifts, we ooh and aah over magnificent decorations. We eat special food associated with childhood memories and we diligently try to create lasting memories of a special holiday season – one that we can declare as the ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year!’
Maybe it’s just the pastoral concerns – families enduring surgeries, families facing mental illnesses, families struggling with losses – but this season the ‘JOY’ we are told to experience is different. Instead of finding joy in the material and commercialized vision of Christmas – where true love is always realized, where the perfect gift is always under the tree, and where the challenges are resolved so that all live happily ever after – let us seek for joy in the promise of God’s presence, in His intervention in our lives through the year, and in the building blocks of hope: Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and return.
JOY TO THE WORLD! THE KING IS COME!