Throughout the story of the first Christmas, we find stress, hardship and doubt. And yet we also hear in this story announcements and promises of great joy and hope, peace and salvation, as when the angel announced to the homeless shepherds in Luke 2:10-11, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
I wonder if God is telling us through the story of the first Christmas that it’s not in spite of the stress, hardship and doubt, it is through these things that we can experience the peace, joy, hope and love we so desperately seek? As God’s son, Jesus could have avoided all difficulties, escaped suffering and lived a life of luxury. Instead, Jesus submitted to being placed in a dirty wooden feeding trough in his first hours of life, and submitted to being nailed on an old, rugged wooden cross in his final hours of life. Why? To demonstrate sacrificial love for all of us so that through a relationship with him we might find true life, inner joy, authentic hope and lasting peace.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” It’s time for us to lay down the heavy and burdensome aspects of Christmas by the side of the wooden manger, at the foot of the wooden cross. And it’s time to take up only that which Jesus gives us, which is the invitation to receive his love and to offer his love to others. This is the true spirit of Christmas.
The Rev. Gwyneth Arrison is serving as pastor of the Merrimacport United Methodist Church of Merrimac, www.MerrimacportUMC.org.