We can get caught up in the modern romance of Christmas: the colourful tree, the happy smiling family around a log fire, the piles of presents. This is the secular vision of Christmas time. But is it biblical?
Jesus' arrival in the world certainly brings stunning light:
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it... The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world." (John 1:5, 9)
But Christmas, as wonderful as it is, has its roots in trauma. For Mary in particular, who was heavily pregnant and yet was forced to travel miles on an uncomfortable donkey. Then to a painful birth in a dirty stable, with animal dung and other smells all around, having searched all evening for somewhere to stay. This follows a difficult pregnancy among gossip that she was pregnant before getting married to Joseph.
When told of her mission, Mary declared: "I am the Lord's servant. May everything you have said about me come true." She followed with a beautiful hymn of praise to God in the Magnificat, suggesting that she felt joy and peace. But there is no doubt that her mission wasn't easy.
Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation: God made flesh, God with us. But Jesus was "despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief", as Isaiah 53:3 tells us. We usually think of this pain as due to his torture on the Cross – the ultimate in self-giving sacrifice to save the world he loved. But his life was hard too, from his questioned parenthood, to his homeless wandering. Jesus was often tired, he wept, he despaired at the state of the world and his disciples. He was regularly threatened and rejected by the people he'd come to save. Even those who worshipped him and followed him would betray him and run away when times were hard. Jesus' mission was difficult too, from start to finish.
The Good News is that Jesus' sorrows were our own – he came to carry their weight. He was "pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins," says Isaiah 53:5... but for what? "He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed."
Jesus suffered on Earth so that we can be free of the burden of our sin and so that we can be healed. However difficult our Christmas is, there is always hope of healing and redemption because Jesus came to us.
That great Christmas passage of prophecy in Isaiah 9, seems to almost be written for those who are suffering today:
"The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
a light will shine...
For you will break the yoke of their slavery
and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders...
For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
If you're struggling this Christmas, know that the real Christmas is for you. Not the myths of idyllic log fires and icing sugar-dusted mince pies: but the reality of God come down to Earth, suffering with us and for us – to redeem us and free us from all that oppresses us.
Isaiah's prophecy also states that Jesus is our Wonderful Counsellor: you can turn to him and tell him of your pain and heartache. Only Jesus can truly understand what you're going through, as he faced suffering himself.
Zechariah's prophecy in Luke 1:78-79 stresses the reason that Jesus came, the real reason for Christmas:
"Because of God's tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace."