Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

A Happy Christmas may hurt as well

It was a great idea, except for Dodie the donkey. Our church was hosting a pre-Christmas open house, so we decided to set up a sort of Olan Mills Studio, Bethlehem branch, with a manger scene where guests could dress up in costumes and snap their own nativity photos. Except that Dodie didn’t like the flash going off, so most shots had his rump facing the camera.

Let’s skip the ass jokes and move on. Dodie’s lack of cooperation got me thinking how that the first Christmas was similarly less picture-perfect than we tend to want to make it with our cutesy nativities.

Of course there was exceedingly good news, for all the people. But as I consider what happened in Bethlehem, and look back on some of my own experiences since becoming a Christian, I find that, along with the joy, Jesus’ birth also brings misunderstanding, loss, and pain.

Tongues probably started wagging the moment Mary’s bump began to appear. There’s no suggestion in the Bible accounts that she and Joseph went around telling everyone, “Yes, but, crazy as it sounds…” They seem to have kept their silence.

Sometimes when God births something in us, others will snicker and point fingers. Will we rush to try to explain, or trust Him to vindicate us in due time? If Jesus didn’t consider His reputation when He was born, as Philippians 2 reminds us, who are we are to expect anything different?

Mary didn’t have the option of a five-star delivery suite, but I’m sure she would have preferred to have welcomed her first child in the relative privacy of her own home, surrounded by just her own family. And how must Joseph have felt as a first-time father, unable to provide even a room for his wife and child? Inadequate, maybe, and exposed as such.

Nor did their surrender end there. Though he knew what God had promised, Joseph never saw its fulfillment. Perhaps the only thing worse was Mary’s actually seeing the fulfillmentas Jesus hung on the cross.

For both of them, Jesus’ birth brought not only delight but heartache. I’ve found the same. There’s this “Come to Jesus and all your problems will be over” myth about the gospel, but in one way a whole bunch of my troubles started when He was born in the messy stable of my heart.

How so? Well, as a long-time self-justifier I was finally faced with absolute truth that wouldn’t let me wriggle and demur and avoid and evade. Years later, I’m still on that hook, struggling at times to face who I am in the face of His grace. Kind of like a stubborn donkey, I can be trying to avoid the bright light of truth.

Good news isn’t always comfortable.

Happy Christmas, with all the misunderstanding, loss, and pain that may come with it.

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