A Haunting Look at the Nativity…

Almost always our family times around the nativity feature the upbeat side of the events surrounding the birth of our savior. Our family gathering was no different. The grandchildren were now old enough to reenact Luke 2. My granddaughter Evelyn was soooo glad to be Mary and grandson Westyn was pleased to be Joseph. Hope and Chad’s dog was a sheep, complete with a chunk of white stuffing to pass itself off as wool. Ainsleigh was thrilled to play the angel making the pronouncement to the shepherds and she had her lines down pat. And, since my other grandson really, really, really wanted to be nothing, my wife (the director) drafted me to be a shepherd. 
But we looked at the family-friendly part of the story — angelic announcements, astounded shepherds worship the babe in a manger, and Mary pondering all these things in her heart. I didn’t think much about it until I attended my daughter Abby’s church the Sunday after Christmas. They were looking at the sorrows that attended the characters of the Christmas story: Zechariah and Elizabeth’s long-term struggle with infertility, Mary and Joseph’s call to a lifetime of humiliation for conceiving out of wedlock, Herod’s massacre of the babies in Bethlehem, and the scene of Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing for their lives hunted down by a maniacal monarch. 
Even Bethlehem itself was a town historically associated with sorrow. In Matthew 2 this is brought out in the quote from Jeremiah: A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” “”O Little Town of Bethlehem” we sing, picturing a peaceful, holy city. But its roots were tragic, starting with Rachel, Jacob’s wife, who died in childbirth and was buried near the site of Bethlehem. Jeremiah refers to the mother of Joseph and Benjamin (She named him with her dying breath Ben-Oni, son of my sorrows. But Jacob quickly switched the name to Ben-Jamin, son of my years.). He pictures her weeping for the descendants of Joseph being slaughtered or carted off into exile by the Assyrians. This bloody history served as a fitting backdrop to the brutality of Herod centuries later. 
This somber look at the nativity story caused me to realize that our joy at the Messiah’s birth arises from the picture of the sovereign care of God against the evil forces that sought to destroy this moment: the incarnation of God Himself in the midst of His people.
Our joy at Christmas often arises from the happy festivities surrounding friends and family. When these festivities are tarnished due to unpleasant circumstances, we often feel that Christmas is being spoiled. When family members are less than loving and kind, we feel that they are dampening the Christmas spirit. When the shadows of the loss of loved ones creep over our celebrations, we struggle to keep up our happy appearances.
But the Messiah came because of these sorrows. Sin had plunged the whole world into darkness. We were totally incapable of redeeming humankind and a decaying world. We were destined to an eternity separated from God and faced with His eternal punishment. The despair is the reason for the Rescuer.

In the midst of despair, grief, disappointment, and loss, we can quiet our hearts when we see that none of the sorrows and danger surrounding Mary and Joseph prevented the Star of Christ from arising in our world. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)
Darkness cannot overcome the Light of the World, and it cannot overcome you, a child of this light. Take heart. In this world you will have trouble, but He has overcome this world. (John 16:33) Let your joy arise from knowing the Savior who conquers all sorrow, all evil, all darkness. This is the good news of great joy that is for every people. And it is a joy that can accompany us throughout the New Year when trouble comes our way.
God’s best, Christopher
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