Christmas is one of my favourite points in the year (the other being my birthday, and this year we can throw in the wedding, which perhaps points to my love of gifts more than anything) but I find that the more I learn to live with the illness I have, the more Christmas comes to life.
The bible has many stories of suffering, but the birth of Christ is rarely put into that context – and yet, here you have a young couple, who stepped into scandal almost as soon as they met – pointed remarks and being ostracised was a very likely outcome to their dilemma of having been chosen to raise the son of God.
Despite the fact they both acted in faith, followed God and trusted in him, they came into a fair bit of trouble as a result of doing as he asked. They found themselves homeless, giving birth in a stable, with a bunch of outcasts and foreigners coming to worship their son. Then, eventually, they had to flee to ensure that their son was not amongst the hundreds of babies slaughtered – due to their presence.
Their story is one of hope, not because their life was a life of the ever serene school nativity, but because they struggled, they were chosen by God to the most important role imaginable. They followed God, and trusted in his plan and purpose – despite that leading them into times of exile, scandal, loneliness and fear for their lives.
Christmas is the story where God shows the world that he really does love it that much. He not only sends his son, but he does it in such a way that he demonstrates his love is for all. The common line of ‘Jesus wasn’t born in a palace’ may be much used, but it has good reason to be. He was born as an equaliser – his role was to demonstrate that God is an equal access God. The rich and educated are not excluded from the story, the poor and scandalous are not excluded from the story, the foreigners, the people for whom things never seem to go to plan, are not excluded from the story.
As time goes by and I find that my mental health is not improving, I find that the Christmas story is truly a story of hope. It is the story that tells me that in the very darkest moments God can be accessed – whether I feel it or not.
He didn’t send his son into a life of comfort, wealth and popularity, not because these things are bad in and of themselves, but because they are not accessible to everyone. He sent his son into the darkness, into a life that would end young, would start in poverty and would be lived for those that others exclude.
The Christmas story is one for those who struggle with the bright lights, tinsel, materialisation and family centred nature of the modern Christmas. In the chaos, when all is just too much, there is a story that we can immediately go back to. Mary and Joseph will have felt entirely overwhelmed, lost in the chaos of life, and just not really knowing what was coming next.
This is a huge comfort to me, in the moments when really I just want to run and hide, when I don’t want to have to deal with all the noise, business and celebration of Christmas, I know I am not alone. The Christmas story is a celebration, a story of hope – but of hope to come. And whilst we live with the knowledge of the cross, and the hope fulfilled – we still have to deal with the same situation Mary and Joseph had. The now (Jesus is here) and the not yet (we still have to live with the trials of living in a fallen world) is the reality we have, the same one they had.
It is ok not to be joyfully happy, or not have life all together, or not know what is to come at Christmas. The point of Christmas is that it shows us that we are not alone – Jesus has come, he has experienced the worst, and even when everything is just dark, we can know that he is there with us still.