“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 Saviour 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” | Luke 2:10-12, NIV
Happy (almost!) 2018 to you all! I looked back over my blog and have given it a bit of a revamp, and I couldn’t help but notice I haven’t written anything for quite a long time. At this point, I’d normally apologise and say I’ve been super busy and haven’t managed to grab any time to write anything – you know the drill. But this time, I’m refusing to apologise. I just haven’t done it.
I think in so many areas of our lives we over-apologise, and being the typically British woman that I am, I tend to apologise for an awful lot more than I probably should – you know, apologising to someone who walked into me, apologising to someone when I get off the train because I have to endure that awkward walk through the carriage, that kind of thing. So, despite it taking me a little while to write anything, I’m not going to apologise – it’s not like the world has stopped spinning because of it right?
This evening, though, I would like to write to you about something that truly is life-changing and world-stop-spinning huge. I want to write to you about Christmas.
Tonight, I went to my church’s annual carol concert and, apart from when I was giving one of the readings at the beginning, I pretty much cried through the rest of it. I’m not sure whether it’s a combination of a stressful few months where everything in my life has just sort of gone a bit, well, wrong, or whether I’m just exhausted and got a bit caught up in the candlelit celebration of my Saviour. Maybe its a combination.
During the carol service, I just realised that Christmas – despite all of our glittery excitement and the terrific build up – is actually not a perfect time of year by any means. If I’m really honest with you, I find Christmas incredibly difficult for lots of reasons which I probably don’t need to divulge here – but I can completely empathise with someone who dreads the carol concerts, and the advent calendars, and the Christmas movie channels, the cooking, the shopping – all of it. I find it all quite tough too.
Yet this Christmas, despite the sense of dread I’m feeling the closer it gets (don’t worry, I do enjoy Christmas – it’s not a complete lost cause in my calendar!), I feel like God is speaking to me about how to find his perfect, real joy in a time which can sometimes be quite false. Christmas can be difficult for me, as it is for many of us I’m sure, but there is an opportunity for all of us to discover not only the true meaning of it, but also to understand the incredibly gracious God that lies behind all of the glitter and the how-much-turkey-can-you-eat-before-you’re-sick competitions.
Christmas, I think – and this can be as controversial as you take it – was difficult for Jesus. What a time to be born, eh? These days, we think of people having babies and generally mothers-to-be having the choice as to where they give birth, and even sometimes choosing which day for baby to be born. It’s in the comfort of their own homes, or the pain-relieving haven of the hospital. Family can be there. You can even have a playlist and create a space that you want for your baby to be born it. It’s a celebration of a new life – and normally a wriggly, scrunched up, super soft skin kind of new life. But for Mary, it was the complete opposite.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about – his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. | Matthew 1:18-19 NIV
Mary was unwanted. Joseph wasn’t having any of it – he didn’t get how the birth of Jesus just “came about”. I love that phrasing – it’s as if to say that this kind of conception happens all the time and that coping with it is just something you get on with. Mary was in deep trouble, and Joseph had no intention of covering up for her – no, he didn’t want to “expose her to public disgrace”, but he certainly didn’t want to stay with her, either.
The picture I chose to frame this blog post is from a film, funnily enough titled “The Nativity”. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. In this version of the story, I just love Joseph and Mary’s relationship because it is so romantic, and despite the hardship of their situation and how that “came about”, its obvious that Joe was completely smitten with Mary. Yet I’m not quite sure how much of a real depiction that is – we never know either way from Scripture, so I guess we’ll find out when we get up there with them – no doubt I won’t be the first to ask. I can only assume that their relationship must have been pretty toxic at some point – there must have been a difficult conversation, or the Essex girl in me reckons there was a cracking row at some point; maybe one of them threw something, or shouted and woke the neighbours, I don’t know. Either way, it can’t have always been rosy.
Christmas begins with a relationship on the rocks – and Christmas takes place in amongst a massacre:
“Herod learned that the wise men had fooled him. He was very angry. He sent men to kill all the young boys two years old and under in Bethlehem and in all the country near by. He decided to do this from what he had heard from the wise men as to the time when the star was seen” | Matthew 2:16
Incensed with jealousy, Herod seeks to kill the new King. We don’t think of all the innocent baby boys killed by Herod while we tuck into our roast potatoes or settle down for the Queen’s speech do we? I certainly don’t. And I definitely don’t think about a marriage that seems completely doomed before it’s really started, either.
The last of my negative nuggets from the Christmas story is this (I promise there is a point to it all) – that Jesus was born and placed in a manger:
“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” | Luke 2:16 NIV
Any mum or soon-to-be mum reading this I imagine is reeling back in horror at the thought of placing your newborn baby in a bed that animals would like have pooed or spat in, or eaten or drank out of. I have a guinea pig called Tabitha, and as gorgeous as she is, sometimes I find ‘food’ other than her guinea pig muesli in her bowl. Animals can be massively gross, and I bet Bethlehem’s Nativity Zoo was exactly the same. Jesus, the one who is the most Holy, the most gorgeous – the “wonderful counsellor”, the “prince of peace” – took his first nap in animal crap.
And this is exactly why I chose not to lose complete hope at Christmas, and this is where I find my joy. Not in the presents I get or the food I eat (if you’re planning on giving me a gift or feeding me, I’d still very much like that – just for the record!), or the Christmas music (although Last Christmas will always be a tune), or even getting to wear a lot of glitter and lovely dresses. My truest, most authentic Christmas joy comes in the form of a baby boy who was born to be, and grows up to be, the Saviour of the World. The Saviour of Annie. The Saviour of you, dear reader. The Saviour who chose literally the worst and most painful situation to be born into – which makes him the Saviour to understand your pain this Christmas time, and the one to understand mine. He is the One who can take my hurts, my worries, my stresses and my exhaustion and exchange it for all of his peace, all of his rest, and all of his joy that I won’t find under the Christmas tree. Jesus gets it – and I can only thank Him for that.
My prayer this Christmas is that those of you who find Christmas hard, for whatever reason, will know that the baby boy of joy (what a cracking name) can be all yours this festive season. And I also pray that we can be kind to one another – you’d be surprised how much of an impact a kind word or a little thought at this time of year can have. If you know that you need to apologise to someone, or you need to make amends – do it. If you know that you need to forgive, or to let go of something – do it. The Christmas story is ultimately about love working its way out of a really horrific set of circumstances, and ultimately a love that has the power to set us eternally free – and for those of us that have already welcomed that love into our lives, we also have that power to share that love that changes lives.
It is Christmas, after all.
Peace and blessings x