... and right before Christmas!
Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Christmas Eve, A
Bad news is nothing new to any of us. We have all seen our share of it, and we all know others who have it even worse than ourselves. There is even a reported axiom in the news media that goes “If it bleeds it leads”. If it weren’t for bad news there wouldn’t be much news at 6:00, 10:00, or 11:00 pm. Recent events are no exception. Outside of never-ending climate catastrophe weather stories there have also been the regular parade of stories involving violent crimes, gang shootings, break and enters, vandalism and more. There has been much misery that has been particularly newsworthy of late.
But recently as I watched all of these and more unfold on the news, I was struck by a refrain heard again and again in one story of disaster and despair after another. “… and right before Christmas!” As each person stood before the broken remains of their house or home, their peace, and security, or family well-being; each in their turn took up the same litany of pain and grief crying out “… and right before Christmas too!”
What I was witnessing over and over again was the heart-felt religious expression of those who have come to the dark night of the soul. That moment when all their convictions are brought into sharp contrast with reality. And it was humbling to watch. With each new voice added to that psalm of lament, the unanswerable question loomed clearer and clearer. How could such a thing happen now? Why Now? It was as plain as the grief in their voices, that their suffering was only heightened by the fact that in their understanding things should be very different.
What each one in turn was crying out for one and all to hear is that somehow, in someway, for some reason, Christmas should be different. When was the last time you heard someone who lost a home to flooding or a fire cry out “… and right before Labour Day too!” “How could this happen so close to Canada Day?” “And to think it should come to this on Family Day!” I don’t mean to belittle, anyone’s suffering, going through such tragedies on any day of the year is very difficult … but why should it be even harder to face just because it’s right before Christmas?
I will tell you why. Because people believe Christmas should be different somehow. People believe that there should be no pain, or suffering or tragedy or heartache on Christmas. People believe that Christmas should be a reprieve from normal life, which is full of all this pain and suffering. Music, feasting, fireplaces, family and lots and lots of love ... that should be all anyone has to deal with on this holy day.
But in thinking this way people miss the real meaning of Christmas … for Christmas is not a reprieve from normal life, but in a sense, a fulfillment of such. Christmas is the celebration of that time when the Lord God Almighty, everlasting and omnipotent creator and ruler of the cosmos, chose to become part of the “normalcy” of our broken human life. You heard it in Matthew’s account of that first Christmas. An account that didn’t sound too magical did it? 18Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
This little holy Baby Jesus was born into family discord, scandal and raised eyebrows. Born away from the warmth and safety of a home. Born into poverty, want, and danger. Faced with violence, oppression, and grief from day one. And still it will not be over until many years later and the betrayals, the torture, the cross, and the painful death. Christmas has it all … and then some. By the standards we tend to put on our own Christmases the first Christmas was an abject, heartbreaking failure.
But that’s the point of it all. And it is recorded in the name given to Him. 20But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
Christ came among us, came as one OF us, on that first Christmas, not to be a reprieve from our normal life, but to take part in it. Every last sad, and bitter piece of it! And that’s the incredible news in all this … Christmas is where the convictions of God’s love for mankind comes into sharp contact with our reality. Where the Heavenly One becomes so earth-bound it hurts (unto death). But there is no dark night of the soul here! Instead, the heavens are opened up and the night is filled with a glorious light. As God comes down from heaven into our world of struggles and pain and suffering, the angel hosts cry out in the litany of hope and joy “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth!”
Christmas is different, but not in that we should be free from suffering. It is different, in that our God, out of His undying love for you, took your suffering upon Himself. Christmas brings peace, not in the lack of grief, but in grief placed upon our Lord’s infant shoulders. Christmas brings healing, not in the avoidance of pain (if only for a while), but in the wounds of Jesus by which one and all are fully and finally healed. Christmas does grant a reprieve to all that pain and sorrow … but not here, and not yet … In the meantime it offers us something very different. It offers us a God who has been there and suffered all that. It offers us a God and will be right here with us through it all, sharing in our pain, that we might likewise share in His joy. Christmas is not the time to cry out Why Me? or Why Now? It is the time to cry out Thanks be to Jesus who has become one of us so we might one day be just like Him!