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What does Christmas teach us about our circumstances?

The Christmas season has a way of amplifying life. Money issues. Marriage problems. Employment woes. Interpersonal strife. Death. Loss. All of these very real problems somehow seem bigger during a season when “things are supposed to be joyful.”

Although Christmas is joyful because of what it represents in Jesus’ birth, we often forget that he was born to die. Christmas is really about Easter. Truly, from his birth to his death, Jesus was surrounded not by joyful times of peace, but by hardship and tragedy.

Yet within that, Christmas has something to teach us about these circumstances. As we review the Christmas narrative, we see that God is in control even though the details look terrible.

We begin with a teenage girl, engaged to be married, who is told by an angel that she, although a virgin, is about to be with a child. This child is going to be a special child. He will be God clothed in flesh, God with us, and he will be called Jesus because he will save God’s people from their sins.

From the world’s perspective, there surely could have been another way to do this. Why a teenage girl, scared out of her mind? Why give her a child when her cultural contemporaries would view this baby as a bastard?

Then there is her fiance, Joseph. Mary breaks to him the ‘great news,’ and nobody is surprised that his immediate reaction isn’t one of overwhelming joy. He’s a noble guy, though, and he decides to break off the engagement in private until an angel instructs him otherwise.

From the world’s perspective, there surely could have been another way to do this, right? Joseph would be viewed by his friends as the guy who got taken advantage of by Mary. He would be viewed as the spineless shred of a man who didn’t have the guts to protect his own honor. As Jesus grew up, Joseph would be mocked as not being Jesus’ real dad.

During those days, Caesar decreed that everyone go to their hometown of their family lineage in order to participate in a census. So Mary and Joseph, pregnant and ready to give birth, made their way down to Bethlehem to sign up. When they arrived, all the hotels were filled up with other patrons. Then, Mary goes into labor.

Could the situation be any worse? They didn’t want to travel in the first place, but had no choice. They arrive and everything is full. Now, Mary needs to give birth in a dirty stable, on a cold stone floor, without so much as her mom to hold her hand, and alongside this man, Joseph, who is almost a stranger. Why? Surely, there could have been a better entrance into the world, no? Would a bed have been too much? From the world’s perspective, this seems abysmal, terrible. Why, God, why?

Tragedies, yes, but God is unfolding the most spectacular thing the world has ever seen. The details look terrible, but the big picture is glorious.

Think this through: Jesus could have been born into a wealthy family. There could have been room in the inn. All of these things could have happened, but God willed things to happen in a different way.

Mary’s pregnancy ‘outside of wedlock’ was because Jesus couldn't come from the seed of sinful man.

It was crucial that Joseph be Jesus’ earthly father so that he would be from the right hometown.

Caesar’s desire to send out a decree for a census wasn’t because a census needed to be done, it was because God needed Joseph and Mary to get to Bethlehem because the Old Testament prophesied that it would be the birthplace of the Messiah.

Jesus was born in a stable for your sake, not for his own. 2 Corinthians 8:9 states, “Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

Jesus left glory for the mess. He stepped into the muck and the mire, and he marched through it all the way to Calvary when he was nailed to a cross. A life of tragedy.

But Christmas teaches us that there is something much more glorious at work than our immediate difficulties. What is God doing? God is either pointing you towards Christ (who can relate to all your tragedies) or, if you already know him, making you more like Christ (who was called the man of suffering).

Romans 8:28-30, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.”

God is at work in the details. Even in tragedies he is pointing us to something bigger than ourselves and making those who follow him into something more glorious. Christmas teaches us this reality.