Don’t get me wrong, I do understand, but what has happened with the Christmas story is, well…just not right. To put it in straightforward terms, the story of Jesus’ birth has been emasculated, robbed of its meaning, rendered hardly recognizable and powerless. When compared with the actual biblical narrative, our modern day accounts bear little resemblance with what actually happened. And I am not talking about the secularization of the Christmas story outside the church where Santa, Snoopy and Frosty show up manger-side. I am talking about the accounts told within the church. Really? Yes, really. But again, don’t get me wrong, I do understand.
I understand we want people to feel good at Christmas and we want our kids to hear a nice, pretty message of Jesus’ birth. I understand we want a moment to feel like all is right in the world, even if for just a moment. I understand the desire to find a moment of respite from the struggles of our lives and to think that maybe, just maybe, that moment can be found in reminiscing the birth of a child that we have heard brings hope. I get it, I do. However, and this is a BIG however, the only way that the birth of Jesus offers us any actual hope, any lasting joy, any real beauty, is to open our eyes to the very difficult and not pretty situation that Jesus was born into. It is only then, only when we give Christmas back its not-pretty context of empire and oppression, of suffering and poverty, of pain and suffering that that we discover there is a real reason for joy, beauty and hope in the birth of the Messiah. It is only then that we discover there is a real hope amidst the struggles of our lives- only then that the birth of the Messiah is relevant to what we face every day. And, praise God, the real hope “found wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” is not just for just one night a year, but for an eternity.
I am afraid that the attempts of the church to appeal to people by making the birth of Jesus a pretty story has instead, made it an irrelevant one. If we are to be salt and light in a broken and hurting world with the story of Jesus’ birth, we must give it back all its bits and pieces. Then we can truly begin to understand, embrace and proclaim ourselves the angels’ proclamation of hope amidst the real fears and struggles of God’s broken but loved world- “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”