It’s been a long year. Which, in many ways, feels like a gross understatement. Schools have been shut down, long anticipated-events and travel cancelled, even just going to the shops or beach has been a challenge. We’ve become all too accustomed to words like ‘unprecedented’, ‘online meeting’ and the dreaded ‘social distancing’. I don’t know what the restrictions are like where you live but I can pretty much guarantee Christmas is going to look a little different this year.
For many families, “I’ll be home for Christmas” might not be the case. There will be people missing from our tables. Maybe even whole families. Slow post could mean gifts don’t arrive on time. Favourite traditions might be cancelled due to restaurants, borders or holiday accommodations being closed. Many Christmas and End of Year events won’t be happening at all.
In many ways, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. Certainly not what we planned. Even just writing this is making me feel melancholy.
But it’s also made me think about the first Christmas. And the fact that that didn’t exactly go to plan either.
Believe me, Mary being a first-time mum? She would have planned and prepared. She would have made clothing and blankets for her coming baby, and arranged for a local midwife to help her when the time came. Family would have been there for the birth and in the weeks following to support her. Joseph, being a carpenter, no doubt would have made some kind of bed for baby Jesus to sleep in.
And then the government’s decree came out of nowhere, much like we’ve become so accustomed to this year. “Stop everything. Go back to the town of your ancestors. We’re having a census.”
It didn’t matter that Mary was nine months pregnant or even that it was God’s son she was pregnant with, when the government tells you to do something, you do it. Just like that, everything changed.
Instead of Mary having her first baby in the comfort of her own home, she was in an unfamiliar town in a stable, of all places. Instead of a beautifully carved crib, she put her tiny new baby to sleep in a feeding trough. Instead of family coming to visit and support her, complete strangers turned up.
Sound familiar? Not so much the shepherds turning up on your doorstep (although if they do, please make sure they keep 1.5m apart and sanitise their hands…), but the being away from family and having restrictions in place and government decrees changing plans at the last minute?
Mary could have been devastated. I reckon I would have been. But she wasn’t.
Luke 2:19 says instead that ‘Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ She saw the wonder. Not the place or frills or even the people, but the fact that God came. The long-awaited Messiah she’d been hearing about all her life lay in her arms. Immanuel. God with us.
Yes, Christmas will look different this year, but that doesn’t mean we have any less reason to celebrate. Just like Mary, our plans have changed but, just like Mary, we have been given the greatest gift the world will ever see.
In the midst of the mess, I challenge you to look for the wonder. Celebrate the gift. Remember that first Christmas and treasure these things.