by Cindy Hester
Merry Christmas my friends. In the interest of transparency, I must confess certain hesitancy in beginning my article with this greeting. My tentativeness in doing so has nothing to do with political correctness. It has everything to do with perception.
I love Christmas. I love celebrating the birth of the Savior of our world. What I have trouble with are the melancholy stirrings deep within my soul that accompany the joy of this season. This dichotomy of feelings troubles me greatly this year.
As a child, Christmas held such a sense of purity and excitement. I was blessed with a loving family who appropriately sheltered me from the darkness in this world. They exposed me to situations where children were not so fortunate by teaching me to share and to pray for them, but my childlike mind could not truly comprehend the stark difference in their daily way of life.
As an adult, I learned firsthand that life’s circumstances are not always “merry” at Christmas. Life in this world is hard, and troubles don’t take a day off. Often those closest to our hearts - those meant to love and protect - inflict the most pain. Even individuals with the most loving families face the reality of a broken world. Many are facing the holidays without loved ones due to the actions of one consumed with depravity. Others are facing relational issues with loved ones still here. We all find ourselves exposed to the accusations of misconduct which saturate our evening news with salacious details more suitable for the courtroom than the dinner table.
The cumulative effect of these events and general everyday stress came crumbling down upon me a couple of weeks ago. I found myself crying inconsolably for seemingly no reason. I simply wanted to curl up on the couch under a blanket and let the world pass on by. I became increasingly vulnerable to the enemies lies of worthlessness and hopelessness.
Deep in the night last week as I bared my soul before my God, He began lovingly reminding me of the circumstances of the first Christmas. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was considered an unwed mother in the eyes of much of the world. Joseph, her fiancé, had to accept by faith to believe an angel of God that Mary was a faithful and acceptable wife.
When Mary was nine months pregnant, she had to ride a donkey ninety miles to the city of Joseph’s ancestors for registration in a census. That alone took an obedient heart. To top it all off, after the long, grueling journey, there was no place for them to stay! There was no shower to freshen up or comfortable bed upon which to rest. Mary went into labor and gave birth to Jesus in a cold, uncomfortable stable full of animals, and all that goes along with animals.
Political unrest also existed at the time of Christ’s birth. King Herod of Israel was just one example. He was described as ambitious, brutal, extremely successful, a man who did not like opposition or competition with family or politics. King Herod was so shaken by the wise men asking about the birth of one who had been born King of the Jews, he ordered the murder of all baby boys two years and under in an attempt to kill this perceived rival.
I got up and began reading in Luke. Despite the challenging circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth, Mary chose to receive God’s gift to her with joy. She said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” Luke 1:46-50
In Christ’s day, shepherds ranked lowest on the social ladder. Yet it was the shepherds to whom the angel of the Lord appeared. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Although King Herod meant harm when he sent the Magi or wise men to find this Christ child and report back to him so that he too could “go and worship him”, God had a much different plan. “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
God desires to impart joy to each of us. He longs to be the light in our darkest hour, and the hope for our deepest despair. When I allow these treasured truths to saturate my heart and mind, I find peace. It is because of these truths that despite the present appearance of current circumstances, I can earnestly wish you all a Merry Christmas. May each of you find rest in His gift of joy.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13