Let me task you with something. Let me ask you to talk to the people who surround you and ask them how their Christmas was. Ask your family. Ask your coworkers. Ask the delivery guy who drops off your packages, the cashier at the store, the lady who cuts your hair, and the woman behind you in the grocery store line. The majority of them will answer something like, “It was great.” They will tell you of the wonderful vacation they took and of the laughs and memories they created. Or they might tell you that it was quiet and low key, but that it was just what they needed. Now, here comes the second part of your task. More than listening to their words, watch their eyes.
Christmas is a sweet time of year for many. But Christmas is a hard time of reflection for many, as well. I would be so bold as to assume that the ratio is 1:1. For some of us, Christmas is a sweet time where we get to travel to see family we don’t see very often. We spend a few days to a week of catching up, playing games, talking too much and sleeping too little, and we come home thrilled with the excitement of it all. Still, others are spending Christmas remembering lost loved ones. We think of how that dreaded “cancer” word has taken one too many in our lives. Or we think of the relationships that somehow went sour. We are weary with having tried so very hard all year long and still we end up here this time of year again. Others are spending the holiday trying to grasp the joy of it while we make decisions that should never have to be made: do we file for bankruptcy? Do we sell the house? Do we move away from friends and family? … or even, Do we try one more round of chemo in hopes that…? Christmas can be so hard for so many.
Why is this time of year harder? Life is hard for some 365 days of the year, so why does this time of year make it so much harder? Is it the “magic” of Christmas that makes us think it should be such a sweet time? And let me tell you, once you’ve experienced one hard Christmas, it can be very difficult to expect the next one to be good. Think back with me, though, to the very first Christmas. The angel came to Mary and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28). Favored one? That “favor” included, from our earthly perspective, so much that we would not call “favor.” She had to convince mom, dad, fiancee, and the whole town that she was pregnant yet still a virgin. What kind of doubt and trouble do you think came from that? Can you imagine those you love the most doubting the core of your character like that? It included a marriage that began with that doubt. It included nine months of pregnancy. It included a long journey to Bethlehem. It included the slaughter of all the baby boys. Can you imagine looking back and seeing a mass slaughter of life and knowing that your family was not the cause of it but yet the reason for it? And what about the death of her Son 33 years later? Favored?
Mary was favored not because of who she was, but because of how God wanted to use her. And that favor did not include an easy road. It included doubt and questions and heartache and loss. Yes, the first Christmas wasn’t “magical” in the sense of a feeling. It was “magical” because God had a plan. It was a plan that included loss and heartache, but it would eventually save the world! So my challenge for us all is to remember that this year has blessings and it has pain, and to truly remember that Jesus is the reason for the season!