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-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.