Scenes of gently falling snow. A self-assured man and serene woman looking at a sleeping infant. A baby so unique that — so the song tells us — "no crying he made." Adoring shepherds. Calm animals in a warm glow of light. It is the traditional scene of Christmas that is reproduced this time of the year.

I can imagine that many a person might turn away from so peaceful and charming a sight this year. Life is complex and hard. There are anxieties. People are worried about taxes and healthcare, family crises and personal problems. It's a far, far cry from that first tender Christmas. Or is it?

Move past the hype and look at the facts!

  • Caesar Augustus required that everyone register in a census for the sake of a Roman taxation program — that people feared and resented.
  • Mary was in the final month of a pregnancy — almost a hundred miles from home and without her mother or a physician or midwife.
  • Joseph surely felt a combination of fear about Mary's precarious state and irritation over having no better lodging for her than an animal shelter.
  • Before that awkward night, both Joseph and Mary had been the objects of whispering and gossip in a shame culture on account of her pregnancy.
  • Shepherds were there as well, but they were more confused than anything else because of what they were seeing and trying to interpret.
  • There is no reason to think the cave-shelter where all this was happening was anything but smelly and noisy as usual — only punctuated on that night by the birth pangs of a young mother and the wailing of a newborn.

God has come to be with us in all things human.
If you are being tempted to distance yourself from Christmas this year because of stress, finances, shame, family problems, or general life chaos, don't! The message of Christmas is that God has come to be with us in all things human. Since so much of human experience is challenging, rest assured that God is eager to be with you in this less-than-the-best-of-times world of 2010.

God-presence is not judged by the absence of threatened or real troubles. It is a presence intended to counter the notion that anyone is alone in her trouble or in his crisis. It is a presence meant to supply hope and courage in dark times:

The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us' " (Matthew 1:23).

Christmas says God knows and cares; he has come to be with you in these anything-but-tranquil times in Jesus.