"It doesn't feel like Christmas this year," is something I've heard more than once and can't fully disagree. Elf, A National Lampoon’s Christmas, and all of the popular songs are on and the lights in my neighborhood twinkle long into the night but a pep is missing, a certain lightness of spirit...excitement perhaps.
But this morning as I went about my tidying up, I began to wonder what the first Christmas felt like. You know the one I'm talking about. Mary, Joseph, and their fresh baby Jesus and realized that for them, it didn't feel like "Christmas" (or our version of it, anyway) to them either.
When we marvel at artists’ depictions of that newly married couple from Nazareth looking down at their swaddled baby, awe in their hearts, it's easy to forget what their Christmas looked and felt like.
There's Mary, Miriam in Hebrew, a girl no more than 15 whose reputation was in tatters, ribbons, and ashes. Imagine falling pregnant while engaged in the Middle East 2,000 years ago. Possible death penalty by stoning aside, did her family believe her story? Did her friends? Did her community? What was it like for her to walk through the market?
We know her fiancé didn't initially believe her wild story about an angel telling her she’s to carry the Messiah because Joseph was prepared to quietly end their engagement to not only try and preserve a few shreds of her dignity but maybe her life as well. That is, until he had his own encounter with a Divine being.
The couple married. I can’t imagine it was a particularly joyous event. How many people gossiped about the unfaithful, lying, promiscuous, girl and the fool who married her while they took their vows?
Heavily pregnant, it came time for a road trip for the government census. Not by car or even donkey as they were very poor. They walked the 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem (some of it quite hilly). I've been pregnant. The farthest I wanted to walk in my last trimester was from the couch to the fridge and even that felt like a brutal pilgrimage.
When the exhausted pregnant woman and her weary husband arrived, surely there was a room waiting with a heating pad, hot meals, fresh clothes, and....no. There wasn't any of that. People disagree as to whether Mary and Joseph stayed in an actual barn of just some lower room that happened to have animals in it, but what we can agree on is that straw and donkey poop are not welcome in any maternity ward.
Joseph was from Bethlehem. Are we supposed to believe he didn't have any family or friends who could make space for them?
He probably did, but as we all know, scandalous news travels fast- especially about the hometown boy whose fiancée got pregnant by somebody else (“She’s still saying she’s a virgin? LOL"). Could it have been that they weren’t welcome anywhere? Or anywhere they were welcome would have been too uncomfortable to stay?
Either way, Mary and Joseph found themselves without a hotel reservation and alone.
Him: shouldering shame, fear- his wife was in labor and he wasn't a midwife, and the responsibility of raising not just any old child.
Her: having her first baby in what had to be the worst Airbnb of all time after enduring months of slander and rejection topped off by a long, physically challenging journey in the most vulnerable state she’s every experienced.
Don't tell me that in the throes of labor, she wasn't missing her mom.
The first Christmas didn't have twinkle lights. There was no tree. No gifts. No welcoming extended family and no Instagram-able accommodations or decor, no table packed with steaming dishes. It was lonely, dirty, and painful both emotionally and physically.
And yet it was beautiful, miraculous, Divinely appointed and changed the world forever.
On the very first Christmas, the lights came in the form of heavenly hosts who lit up the night sky with a blazing message of hope. The gifts came in the promise of God's unfailing love and redemption in the form of a little baby boy. The visitors were shepherds- members of one of the lowest occupations at the time- who had been sent on a Divine mission of encouragement and welcome.
The room, while not impressive to the naked eye, was packed to capacity with glowing angels singing in heavenly chorus. How’s that for decorations?
If your heart is heavy this Christmas because it doesn't feel right or good enough...maybe the loss of someone you love has the air feeling empty, or you can't fill the space under the tree for the kids the way you'd like to, or you've been walking that Nazareth to Bethlehem walk through valleys and up mountains for months, years, and your mind and soul need healing rest...you're not alone.
The first Christmas was stripped of all the comforts of home, there were no red and white frosted cookies, no sparkling silver tinsel, no movies, and very few familiar faces, but with the Child came a promise of Divine hope and love that transformed a barn into a palace, strangers into family, and a common night into a season of miracles.
My hope and prayer for you reading this, is that you can look around your simple life, the broken and beautiful pieces together, and know that the miracle is still alive and present today. Hope is here, among us. Let it in. That’s Christmas.
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:11
love always and Merry (early) Christmas,