by Alyssa Robinson
If you grew up in the church, or maybe even if you didn’t, you’ve probably heard the Christmas story every year of your life. The CliffsNotes version goes something like this:
God promises the coming of a messiah to the Israelite people, but this messiah is for everyone to bring peace and hope to the entire world. Then, almost 1,000 years later, an angel reveals to Mary that she has been chosen by God to give birth to Emmanuel, God with us. She and her fiance, Joseph, then must travel to Bethlehem for a government census. Mary gives birth to Jesus in a cave because there was no room at the local inn. She wraps him in swaddling cloth and lays him in a manger.
In the meantime, angels announce the birth of Jesus to shepherds in the fields and they follow a star to witness the promised messiah. Later, a group of astronomers also follow the star and bring gifts to lay at Jesus’s feet in worship.
There are some variations in the story across the Gospels, but this is the general flow. Where does hope come into the story? If you’re just looking into the surface level facts of the story, it sounds pretty rough.
- Mary becomes pregnant as an unwed teenager
- They have to travel to Bethlehem to be counted so Caesar can get more taxes
- Because of the crowds for the census they have to sleep outside with the animals
- She gives birth among the animals and has to put her newborn baby in a feeding trough
- Random strangers show up to worship her baby
Sometimes I make the mistake of taking humanity out of the Christmas story. I assume that Mary and Joseph were completely obedient with no confusion or issues with their situation. When we sing songs and retell the nativity story, we imagine it to be serene and inspiring.
A lot of the elements sound gross and frustrating to say the least. If I were Mary, I would be pretty annoyed with everything happening around me. I’d probably be worried about what other people thought of me or if they believed me. I'm sure people would doubt me or my experience, and that might make me question the mystical experience I had with the angel Gabriel and wonder if it was even real. I'd feel indignant that the government is making me travel when this was not part of my birth plan! I know I would not be a pleasure to be around, and, knowing myself, I’d probably take out my frustrations on Joseph. And I'm sure Joseph was carrying his own insecurities and fears through this whole ordeal.
But maybe that’s exactly where God’s hope can be found. The hope is in the name “Emmanuel” or “God With Us.” God with us is not a promise that all of life’s pain and frustrations will disappear. It’s the promise that God will be near as we journey through life. God is with us through the unexpected, annoying, infuriating, terrifying moments. We are not alone.
God loves us so much that God decided to live among us and share our human experience, with all of its trauma, worries, and uncertainty. So where is hope in the Christmas story? It’s the beginning of the possibility to be fully present with God. And the best part is that perfection isn't required! The Christmas story shows us that we can come with all of our messiness, anxiety, and baggage to be in a personal relationship with God, and God will show up.
Love has come down to earth to be with us! Join us on Christmas Eve to experience the hope of Jesus’s birth. Learn about our services at TMUMC.ORG/christmas.
Listen to this week’s Life + God Podcast episode to hear Rev. Gracie Millard share her thoughts on the hope found in the Christmas story. You can listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.