Charlie Brown: I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.
Linus Van Pelt: Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy’s right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.
Christmas is usually my favorite time of year. I love the music, trees, lights, parties, the lot. Something about this year has been different and I’m not sure what it is. I haven’t wanted to listen to the music as much or watch the dozens of Christmas movies I usually do. Figuring out why, has been a different matter altogether. Maybe it’s because I’m single, maybe it’s the fact that in spite of the all-too-brief ice-pocalypse the Dallas weather has felt more like Spring or maybe it’s because there is the pressure this time of year to be happy more than any other; all of these could be the reason for my holiday haze.
With these thoughts in mind, I’ve been traveling back to the first Christmas in the Gospels. What I have been struck by is how unfettered they are by the false facade we have built around this holiday. Think about it. A wearly couple arrives in a backwater Judean town on it’s busiest night in years. The census has created a metropolis out of this one-stop-light village. The sound of full inns and family homes bursting at the seams with noisy relatives spills out into the dusty streets as the couple look for any place to stay.
The unwed mother’s delivery is imminent as her frantic betrothed looks for any place he can find for her to rest and bring his adopted son into the world. They are alone; this might be their ancestral village, but there is no family left here to call on. The betrothed finally finds a place, its a stable. There is nothing cute or clean about this place. This is no Disney-ized version of a barnyard; it is smelly and dirty as animals wander in and out of the stable. The teenage mother is about to give birth and her betrothed must help. There is not midwife tonight and he will see things that most Jewish men of his time would not, the birth of his child. There is no glamor or calm, only the screams of a mother, ready to have her child out of her. She’s in pain and there are no drugs to help her and straw is only so comfortable to lay on.
It’s over, the baby is here and yes he’s screaming. The sound of his cries mingles with that of the animals as well as the city. The world is unaware of what just happened. The Word became flesh. To anyone that night, it was unremarkable, no one cared. The mother wraps her child in cloth against the night and the betrothed leans back in the straw, exhausted.
There are no carols or lights, no trees or parties, the Savior comes into the world and no one knows. That is at least until angels appear to social outcasts on the fringes of town and declare that the Savior, which is Christ the Lord has been born. The mother and her betrothed, so alone this night must have been shocked as these men came into the stable to worship their child. From the beginning, the Savior was healing the marginalized and reaching out to the broken. These miscreants were the first evangelists; heralding through the streets that night, to anyone that would listen, that the world was forever changed because of a baby born that night.
This is what the season is all about. It’s not about candy-cane smiles and tinsel-hanging happiness, it’s about hope for the hopeless. Joy to the world, the Lord is come, not so we can have our best life now but so we can have our best life for eternity. God came down, born into extreme poverty and lived as one of us.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16, ESV)
He was rejected and alone, even his closest friends would abandon him in his greatest hour of need. Without the cross, Christmas means nothing. So, if you are feeling a lack of Christmas spirit, remember that it’s not about the commercialized racket, it’s about a baby that was born to die. And through his death and resurrection anyone can have life and have it abundantly. Joy to the world indeed.
This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.
From “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming”