Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
I really hadn’t given much thought to Christmas this year–the imperfect Christmas that is–until it was upon me.
The top of the Christmas tree is still waiting for the star. Even though I tried putting everything “Christmas” in the same place in the attic last year, we still can’t find the ornaments or the battery operated candles that light up the windows. I’m sure they’ll surface in the next couple of days as I go searching through the boxes again.
Ideas for presents occasionally cross my mind, but in all honestly, I haven’t had much time to think about them because my 93-year-old father has needed a lot of attention the last few days. We have been living with Grandpa (as he is affectionately known) for the last four years, and the holidays are a little rough on him. My 14-year-old daughter has also been sick with a persistent cold for the last week, and my son and his new wife will not be able to make it home for Christmas which is definitely weighing heavily on everyone’s hearts.
It’s only the first week of December, I tell myself. I still have time . . . but time for what?
I need something more than a perfect Christmas. I need a touch from the Lord!
“Where is the nativity set?” my daughter Elizabeth asks, interrupting my thoughts.
“Out on the porch with everything else we brought down from the attic,” I reply.
“I don’t know how to arrange it,” she says.
“Arrange it any way you want to,” I say. “I took on that responsibility when I was about your age.”
She sighs. “But there’s so many duplicate pieces!”
It’s true. Over the years, I’ve added to our nativity set by purchasing individual pieces or partial sets off of eBay. There are duplicates of shepherd boys, sheep, and fife blowing minstrels. We have Mary and baby Jesus sitting on a donkey, accompanied by Joesph who is taking them to Egypt, but we’re still missing the Mary and Joseph who would be kneeling by the manger.
That got me thinking. Maybe we do miss what Mary must have gone through that first and imperfect Christmas so long ago.
“ Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 1:4-7
Imagine what it must have been like for Mary–a young girl, probably 12 or 13 years of age. Think about the shame and humiliation of being found pregnant out of wedlock in a tight-knit Jewish community like Nazareth, where everyone was sure to know everyone’s business sooner or later.
Think about having to tell the man you are betrothed to that you are carrying the Son of God–the long awaited Messiah! At first Joseph thinks he will hide the whole affair, but then he has a dream, and the Angel of the Lord tells him to marry you anyway! That must have been such a relief.
As your due date nears, you are informed that you must make a lengthy journey to Bethlehem, the town of your husband’s origin, roughly eighty miles away–and on the back of a donkey no less! Imagine the fear and apprehension of such news!
As the journey begins, you feel every jostle and jolt of the donkey’s steps. It will take a week to travel the rock strewn road before you. You wonder how you’ll be able to endure it!
Near the end of the journey, your water breaks and the contractions begin. You feel the panic rise in your chest. You have never given birth before. You need your mother’s help, but she is back in Nazareth, so very far away! There is no way on earth she can help you now.
As Joseph finally reaches the outskirts of the busy town, you begin to slump over. It isn’t long before he finds an inn, but just as he prepares to take you off the donkey, he is quickly told there is no room, even for a woman in your condition. You send up a silent, frightened prayer, Oh God, help me!
And at the last minute, when you think you may have the baby right there on the street, Joseph is offered the refuge of a stable . . .
You barley remember being lowered down onto the freshly strewn hay. How can this be happening? A cry of pain escapes your lips. You wait in exhaustion, your belly heaving, the pain rising and falling until you are finally able to push the baby out into Joseph’s waiting hands.
You can’t believe it! It’s over at last!
You stare in awe at this new little life, the Son of God, your Savior.
I’m sure Mary must have been frightened and perplexed at times like any young girl would be, but she had surrendered her will to God’s proclaiming, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38
Sometimes, I wonder if we can really comprehend that kind of surrender. It wasn’t easy. Nothing she went through to give birth to the Savior was easy. But with God’s all-sufficient grace poured out over her life, she was able to bear the overwhelming circumstances He had called her to walk through.One agonizing decision after another, He carried her the whole way!
And He does the same for you and me. We may not realize it at the time, but he does, and for that we can be truly grateful.
Tonight, around a “mostly” decorated tree, I will gather with my husband and daughters to read an advent devotional we began on the first. We will sing Christmas hymns together and pray, and in the sacredness of set apart moments, we will find our hearts comforted and filled with the awe that comes from being touched by presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, at this special time of the year.
Advent is a time of reflection . . .
Advent is a time to worship . . .
Advent is a time to wait expectantly for His coming . . .
In the midst of a less than perfect life, we can enter into His presence and rejoice no matter what burden we carry. God meets us in the imperfect for that is where we receive His all sufficient grace to carry on.
I pray that no matter what you are going through this CHRISTmas, you will find the time to contemplate the love of God for you and your family, and that you all will rejoice in the gift of His grace.
“. . . My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9