The holidays, with all their rush, push, travel, and commitments, are done. Because Christmas and New Year's Day fell in the middle of the week, many of us are just now getting things put away. If you were like a lot of folks this past weekend, you were faced with cleaning up dry pine needles and putting stuff away in a cold, dusty attic. Onward we march into the cold, dreary days of winter — yes, we envy our brothers and sisters living on the other side of the equator this time of year.

Before you completely let go of the Advent stories, however, I hope you will join me in a reminder that we need before we leave the joy and excitement of the holidays behind. For Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus, the excitement of the journey to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, the stories of shepherds fresh from their flocks in the field, and the Magi who visited from afar, were all over. Jesus' family faced a hard new reality:

When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him" (Matthew 2:13).

Raising the Christ-child — the Messiah and Son of God — was not going to be easy for them. Jesus may have grown up like any normal boy (Luke 2:51-52), but the fragility of life was never lost on Jesus and his family. Joseph disappears from the biblical record after Jesus' trip to the Temple when he was twelve (Luke 2:41-50). Joseph appears to have died at some time before Jesus began his ministry.

As a good oldest son, Jesus took over the carpentry shop of his earthly father. Jesus became known as a carpenter in Nazareth (Mark 6:3). He faced sibling rivalry, teasing, and jealousy like most children and young adults face at one time or another (John 7:1-7). He even faced rumors of his mental state from his family (Mark 3:20-21). Mary, who knew something of Jesus' heavenly origins, struggled at times with what to expect of him (John 2:1-5) and how he would receive her as his mother (Mark 3:31-35).

Jesus' real-to-life circumstances are comforting to me. They are reminders that when Christmas is over, and after all the twinkling lights have come down and boredom of winter's bleak landscapes have closed in upon us, Jesus understands. He knows the hardships of life. He knows the difficulties of living in a messy and sometimes violent world. He knows the realities of living in our real world of joyous celebrations, emotional letdowns, dangerous travel, petty hatreds, and homeless wanderings.

Jesus had to be made like us in every respect so he could help us (Hebrews 2:14-18, 4:14-16). I find comfort in that truth. Being born in a manger and having to be hurried to Egypt by Joseph and Mary to protect his life, I know that he understands. He has shared my world of dry pine needles, cold and dusty attics, with long dreary days that appear to go nowhere special.

Jesus used Isaiah's "Servant Songs" (Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-7, 52:13-53:12) to define his ministry and his difficult journey to the cross. In one of these songs, Isaiah made the following promise of the LORD's Servant:

The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.

(Isaiah 50:4 — Bold added for emphasis.).

Now, Jesus' family faced a hard new reality:
Let's brush off those dry pine needles, shake the cold attic dust from our clothes, and on those dreary days that God seems distant, let's do this. Let's remember our Savior's journey through the hard challenges combined with the long days caught in the ordinariness of life. Let's remember we can be real when we talk to him in prayer — we don't have to pretend or dress up our words or our world.

Most of all, let's listen in the stillness of those dark and dreary times for the whispers of grace from Jesus. He has been here and knows the harsh edges of our world. He has the words to sustain us when we are weary with it all!