The actual story of Jesus often gets lost at Christmastime in the maudlin and schmaltzy stories associated with Jesus' birth. While we don't want to traumatize our children or scandalize the birth of Christ, the biblical birth stories of Jesus reflect the gritty reality of our often harsh world.

We must not let the real baby Jesus become lost in the Western civilization's picture of the ivory-skinned, rosy-cheeked, blonde-haired, and cherubic baby wrapped in clean blankets with his arms outstretched and looking expectantly at us with his blue eyes. Jesus was born to Jewish parents who were shunned. They went to their hometown for a Roman census but found no room for them to use as a place to stay or for Mary to have her baby. Forget about not having room for them in the inn; the truth is far harsher. No one in their ancestral family would keep them. They knew Mary's baby was not Joseph's baby. They knew that they were not fully husband and wife, but Mary, nearing the end of her pregnancy, was Joseph's betrothed. So no one in either of their families was willing to give them a room to sleep or for baby Jesus to be born. They were shut out and shunned.

Jesus wasn't welcomed as a prince into the world. There was no palace. There were no fine linen sheets. There was no hand-made crib in which to place the newborn King of the Jews. Instead, Mary placed baby Jesus in a feed trough where animals licked up grain and found their bites of hay for food. There were no nursemaids or attending servants to care for Mary during delivery or Jesus after he was born — only smelly shepherds fresh from their flocks in the fields. No religious officials were present to name him — only later did foreign dignitaries of a false religion welcome him.

Then, to make matters worse — and much more like the world in which we live — the ruling authority set out to kill baby Jesus. King Herod would have no rival to his throne. So, God had to warn his step-dad, Joseph, in a dream about Herod's murderous intentions. The heavenly warning ensured that Jesus was spared as his family escaped to Egypt. However, Herod had other babies in the region around Bethlehem murdered in the horrendous act of genocide to appease his paranoia and protect his power.

Immanuel, God with us in Jesus, is a real-world Savior. His true-to-life story has great power to connect with us in our most challenging moments. Jesus' story speaks to the eternal yearning in our hearts that the evil one cannot extinguish. This story captured the heart of Maria Augusta von Trapp — yes of "The Sound of Music" fame! Through Maria, the Jesus story changed hearts on at least three continents. You will be touched by her story told by James Nored in today's video:

What an incredible story of a woman who transformed from an atheist to a Christian missionary to primitive Papua, New Guinea! Such is the power of the real story of the authentic Jesus. God came to us in human flesh as Jesus. He entered a world as wondrous and dangerous as our own. He took on the whole reality of our mortality and conquered its worst to make the best of it possible for us.

What should be our response to Maria's story? If Jesus could re-write Maria's story into one of the most cherished stories of all time, imagine what he can do in you!

The real von Trapp family singers at their later home in Vermont.

For us as followers of Jesus, there are at least three touchpoints:

  1. Our world is broken, and we need to pray for God's Kingdom to come on earth just as it is reflected in heaven (Matthew 6:9-13).
  2. If we pray such a prayer, then we should seek to bring this Kingdom of God as modeled by Jesus (Matthew 6:33).
  3. We must live in great anticipation for the day that all hostilities cease, and all hatred is swallowed up and removed with the full reign of the world's Savior, Jesus. Then, we will join the chorus of heaven and sing:

    The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15).

    We can't wait until the hills are alive with this song, can we?

    Let's pray that our world can be a much more hospitable place for Jesus and those who need to find him.

    Jesus is Immanuel, God with us as a Savior who knows the harshest realities of our messy world.
    We invite you to join us in a shared hour of prayer around the world, called New Year with New Hope! Come share in a time of prayer with people around the world praying at the same hour, simultaneously, to begin the New Year. Our prayers will focus upon three key concerns as we enter into the New Year, 2021:

    1. Jesus is welcomed and exalted by all people as Savior and Lord!
    2. The barriers and divisions between people are overcome the Love and Prayer of Jesus' followers.
    3. With the introduction of new vaccines and treatments, we join our hearts in prayer for Health and Healing for the people of the world.

    Please read our introduction to this worldwide effort and be watching our banners, your email, and future articles in the Special Features section in the coming days!

    Special thanks for the use of images related to Jesus' ministry from The Lumo Project and Free Bible Images for use on this week's post.