What are you expecting this Christmas? Are you expecting another year of Christmas parties and gift exchanges, trips to church and the store, or are you expecting a series of disappointments and broken memories of times from the past? What would happen to Christmas - whether you are joyfully approaching the celebration of Christ’s birth or mourning moments lost - if you expected that God wanted to show up and make Christmas so much more?
At the time of Jesus’ birth, a couple of newlywed parents with nothing to their names showed up in this little backwoods town called Bethlehem, where they were obligated to check in due to Roman occupation and royal decree. Of course, Mary was nine months pregnant with Jesus, and Joseph was not yet established as a carpenter, and they ended up knocked about that night by a series of overflowing inns and cold shoulders. They received the King of Creation into their hearts and lives as a homeless couple, probably cold, hungry, and alone, but for the occasional nosy farm animal or overly exuberant shepherd.
From the Scriptural narrative, there are films like The Star (in theaters), Chasing the Star, My Son, My Savior, Journey to Christmas, and The Jesus Film, that lay out for us a vision of what it might have looked like when the Messiah, the Christ, was birthed in a lowly stable. These films seek to highlight the ways that the Christmas story speaks to us today, how it still matters for those who would have ears to hear, and eyes to see.
Jesus was homeless when he was born, born into a displaced, occupied family. The God of all things, now and forever, Immanuel - God with us -His birth was not a triumphant one at first. Certainly, there were angels singing, proclaiming in Luke 2, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger...Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
This was the celebration? This was God’s grand entrance into human affairs? But of course, it was! Because this announced that God’s plan for our lives, in the midst of the dark nights of our souls, was not what we expected. This was a love that was greater than social norms and expectations; this was a love that would find its true form in that same baby, all grown up, nailed to a cross and dying for our sins. [Of course, that in itself was an unexpected ending, with a follow-up, a surprise twist ending in Jesus’ resurrection.]
Survey your Christmas again. Where might God show up? What does God have in mind? What is God going to show you about the Christmas narrative from two thousand years ago, and about how your story fits into God’s great story? What can you see in the way that God is moving in your story, in the way that God is calling you to reach out to those who are scared in the dark surrounding Christmas, those who are homeless, hungry, naked, tired, sick, and forgotten this Christmas season?
God is moving in ways that no one expects, but in Christmas, we get to see, experience, and point others to the same.