This is a Christmas we’ll always remember. For many, Christmas is marked by tradition—gathering with the ones we love for that favorite holiday meal, shopping in the same crowded malls, attending the same packed out candlelight service. But this year, things will look a bit different, not because of new things we’ll do, but rather because of the familiar things we cannot do.
Our Christmas table may have fewer loved ones around it. Some of us will have empty chairs due to guidelines for gathering, or most sadly, because of losses we’ve endured. Many are foregoing the mall for online shopping and our hearts are heavy for friends suffering layoffs and small business challenges. Our candlelight service might be virtual or limited in attendance. We may even have to make a reservation to attend.
What do we do with all of the different? Haven’t we met our quota of quarantine? Our daily dollop of disruption? When is enough, enough? When will this chaos end?
If this season is hard for you, if you’re looking forward to December 26 more than December 25, then I have a story for you to consider. A story of a young girl.
As much as she tried to keep a good attitude, it was not easy. She was far from home, miles from family and her own bed. She had spent the last few days on crowded roads, enduring the winter chill. Money was scarce. Friends were nowhere near. A warm bed and a hot meal? The prospects were slim.
Her heart ached for her family. She felt separated from them. Under normal circumstances they would have been thrilled to learn of her pregnancy. But pregnant before the wedding? With her conservative family and her bizarre explanation? And to have to tell the man she was to marry that she was carrying a child who wasn’t his? It was a miracle he still married her. And another miracle was what she needed that night.
She’d envisioned giving birth at home: Mom holding one hand, an aunt the other; a midwife, doting relatives, Joseph, and a crowd of neighbors outside the door. Perhaps if they all could have experienced the birth of her firstborn together, then they would believe her story.
At least that’s how I imagine Mary felt. Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps, the feed trough and stable were her idea. But I don’t think so. So when Joseph returned from the inn and asked if she was allergic to sheep, it’s a safe hunch to say she was chagrined. This wasn’t how she’d planned to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Joseph led the donkey down a steep path that ended at the mouth of a cave. He lowered Mary off the back of the donkey. He looked at her face, fatigued and powdery from the road. She touched his cheek and smiled and entered the grotto.
Joseph built a fire and heated water. Mary cleared a spot on the straw and set about the task of bringing God into the World. With cows as her witnesses and Joseph as her midwife, she did just that.
Within moments, the hand of the Star Hanger clutched Mary’s finger. The feet of the Sky Walker lay in Joseph’s palm. No wonder the angels filled the sky with worship. Any doubt of the Father’s love disappeared the night God was wrapped in barnyard towels so the hay wouldn’t scratch his back.
In that moment, the ache in Mary’s back, the ache in her heart – they faded away. The questions of how, the wonderings of when – they didn’t linger. In spite of the chaos, Christ came. Because, you see, chaos cannot keep Christ out of his world.
And chaos cannot keep him from your world.
The moment Mary touched God’s face is the moment God made his case: there is no place he will not go. No chaos he cannot calm.
And so, into this Christmas filled with challenge and heartache, questions and longings – let Christ come. Let him pull up a chair to your emptier than normal table. Receive the gift of his presence. And celebrate the miracle of the manger.
Christmas is here. Christ is here.
May the Lord do again what he did then: scatter the night with everlasting light. May he be born in us. May his Advent brighten the autumn chill. And may we be reminded that because of Bethlehem, we can find a lifetime of hope.
© Max Lucado