There’s no disputing that the Night was holy, but words like silent, calm, peace, tender and mild don’t seem compatible with the circumstances – a teenage girl delivering her first child in a dank, cramped, barn, after travelling 120 kilometres through hostile territory and rocky terrain, on the back of a donkey, while nine-months pregnant. Then, after the delivery, there’s nowhere to lay the baby except a feeding trough.
And once He’s laid there and settled into his swaddling cloths, the family can finally get some peace and shut-eye, right? Wrong! Before they know it, a bunch of smelly shepherds they’ve never met bursts in to gawk at the bundle of Joy!
Songs like Silent Night, Away in a Manger and O Holy Night depict the first Christmas through the rose-coloured goggles of nostalgia and the 20/20 glasses of hindsight, and paint a romanticized picture that’s reassuring and comforting for us. And that’s probably OK – there is definitely some value in these warm, fuzzy feelings. But I think it’s also useful to put ourselves in the sandals of the Holy Family in order to grasp the sacrifices they made – and the ordeal they endured – to help pave the way for the Salvation of humanity.
My friend and pastor, Stephen Hambidge, preached a great sermon on Joseph’s journey this past week. I invite you to give his words a listen via (http://www.holytrinitycalgary.org/downloads.htm – the sermon is called The Dad He Didn’t Have to Be.
Meanwhile, another friend who’s a pastor – Brad Huebert (http://bradhuebert.wordpress.com/) preached an equally great sermon on Mary on Dec. 14, 2008. It’s called Luke 1:26-38, and you can grab the Podcast on the iTunes store. It’s also worth listening to the Dec. 21, 2008 sermon as well (the Podcast is called Luke 2:1-7, but mostly deals with Luke 1:56-79). The Christmas Eve sermon from the same year is also a great companion to these two.
Most of my current thoughts on Mary and Joseph came from Stephen’s and Brad’s sermons, so I won’t plagiarize them here. But I do have some self-generated (but probably not original) thoughts on Baby Jesus. Here goes:
There’s no doubt that Jesus’ adult life on Earth was full of trial, hardship and sacrifice. God came to us and revealed profound truths about who He is and who we are and can be, and we didn’t get it. We didn’t even recognize that He was God. We treated Him with indifference, ignorance, slack-jawed incomprehension and scorn. Then, completely without cause, we humiliated, tortured and murdered Him.
After all that, when He breathed His last while hanging on the cross, I imagine Him being grateful that the ordeal was nearly over and He would soon be returning to His Father. Life was undeniably hard for Jesus, meaning its end was probably a relief.
But what about its beginning?
Prior to the Conception, Jesus sat on the Throne of Heaven in perfect relationship with the Father and Holy Spirit – love, compassion and harmony personified and deified simultaneously. Space and Time don’t exist there, we’re told – and neither do pettiness, jealousy or vanity. The magnificence of that existence cannot be overstated. In Matthew 11:11, Jesus tells us that whoever is the least in Heaven is greater than the greatest on Earth – and Jesus was the opposite of the least in Heaven.
And He chose to tear Himself from that perfect love, comfort and omnipotence to pour his Essence into the fragile body of a human – a vessel subject to hunger, pain, anguish, loneliness and bad breath. And He knew that when He came to visit His children, we wouldn’t recognize Him or the mind-blowingly fantastic Gift He was bringing, but would instead reject and execute Him for the flimsiest possible reasons.
Knowing all of that, and knowing that He was departing Beauty for Ugliness, Community for Loneliness, Harmony for chaos, Embracement for rejection and Comfort for pain and fear, He came anyway.
Maybe when Jesus was laid in the manger, no crying He made, but nine months earlier, His grief must have been incomprehensible. Therefore, I sometimes wonder what was more painful for Jesus – Good Friday or Christmas.
I don’t mean to rob the world of any Joy we feel at the Saviour’s birth – it’s only right that we should bring glory to the newborn King. But I think we need to be cognizant of the fact Jesus’ great sacrifice on our behalf began 33 years and nine months before Calvary.
O come let us adore Him.
Peace be with you.