We think of the lovely pastoral setting with stable, animals, tongue-tied shepherds, priceless gifts delivered by mysterious magi, a smiling Mary, a sturdy Joseph, and the babe, cozy on a sweet-smelling bed of fresh hay. The scene touches us in a unique way.
We delight in Mary’s innocence and charming simplicity as she allowed God’s child to irrevocably alter the fabric of her life. We nod in approval at Joseph’s resolution to see this through at any cost. We rejoice in the gift God gave us by sending His only Son.
But, too often, we leave it there, forgetting that the God who came as a small babe is the same God who caused deluges of water to pour upon the land, destroying everything except those gathered in the ark; the One who sent plagues upon the land of Egypt and fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah; the One who destroyed the army of Sennacherib, gave the laws and commandments to Moses, reasoned with Job, and wept with David.
At Christmas, we think of love. God’s love for us. Mary’s love for God. Joseph’s love for Mary. Our love for our families. But there was no love in the heart of Herod.
We speak of joy. Yes, there was joy in both Joseph’s and Mary’s hearts. There was joy in the eyes of the amazed shepherds and the songs of the ecstatic angels. But the magi brought the ointment of death, and Mary’s heart was afraid even as she held her baby.
We feel the peacefulness of the stable, with the contented baby, born without blemish, lovingly cared for by his gentle mother in the presence of tiny white lambs happily munching their hay. But a lamb was the symbol of sacrifice.
Love? Joy? Peace? Yes. But disrupted by the smells of dung, the pricks of straw, the cold of the dirt floor, the distant threat of an army of sword-carrying soldiers who would swoop upon Bethlehem, bringing with them the sounds of women and men weeping as their sons bled to death.
We have made Christmas into a celebration of light and warmth. We think of family and friends, of tables spread with abundance, of brightly wrapped gifts, of giving and good cheer. But how does God think of Christmas? Does he perhaps see it as a time of unprecedented sacrifice—a time of wrenching Himself away from all that was truly wonderful and allowing Himself to become a helpless human being—taking the first step along a road that would end in unspeakable agony and pain?
Love? God’s love. Loving us so much that He became one of us.
Joy? Our joy, as we realize that the almighty God was willing to suffer so much for us.
Peace? The ability for us to return to the relationship Adam and Eve once knew—to be in harmony with our Creator.
Christmas is a wonderful time.
But instead of getting carried away with the glitter or the sentiment of the season, let’s remember that the small babe held so gently in Mary’s arms is the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and earth, that same Jesus who would one day say:
“No one comes to the Father but by ME”
“I AM the Resurrection and the Life”
“I AM the Bread of Life”
“I AM the Light of the World”
“I AM the Living Water”
“I AM the Door”
“I AM the Good Shepherd”
“I AM the Way, the Truth, the Life”
“BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS, I AM.”
As we sit in comfort in front of sweet-smelling, glittering Christmas trees with their trail of brightly wrapped presents, let’s remember that the Christmas tree of the Babe who gave us our reason to celebrate was a rough-hewn cross.
This piece was originally posted on The Word Guild Writer’s Blog in 2009 and on the site Christians Who Write in 2012.