The holidays are filled with expectations. TV commercials flash up pictures of happy children opening gifts, couples in love, friends connecting — promising us the same if we buy their products. Stores show us displays of holiday decorations that will create the picture-perfect Christmas. Our friends on Facebook post photo albums of their children hugging one another in front of their beautifully ornamented trees. Add onto that the nostalgia we may feel as some of us long to recreate our own childhood memories of the Christmas spirit.
Often we put ourselves into a frenzy over the holidays trying to gain just a glimmer of this Christmas spirit for ourselves and our families. But rather than joy, we may find ourselves struggling with grief over loved ones we’re missing and depression from the darkening days. Rather than peace, we may find ourselves enduring the stress of just trying to keep the family together and balance an insane number of parties and activities. Rather than love, we may find ourselves lashing out in anger at our loved ones. Rather than freedom, we may find ourselves wondering how we’re ever going to pay off the debt on our credit cards used to purchase our perfect Christmas.
If frantic shopping, decorating and parties are not the answer to experiencing the Christmas spirit, what is? The story of the first Christmas may provide us some interesting insights. We read in Matthew 1:18-19 of stressed relationships and accusations of infidelity — in fact the Holy Family was already planning a quiet divorce before Christmas Day. We read in Luke 2:6-7 of Baby Jesus spending the first Christmas not in the warmth and togetherness of family and friends, but cast out among the farm animals, rats and flies in the cold barn. We read in Matthew 2:13 that the baby Savior had to spend his earliest years as a refugee in Africa to escape the terrorist leader Herod.