An Untraditional Christmas

If there is ever a time for us to feel obligated to traditions, it’s during the holidays. You still make a fruitcake every year because Aunt Marge always did (and she was the only one who ever ate it, God rest her soul). You spend money you don’t have on presents for everyone on your grade level team and front office staff because you’re afraid of hurting their feelings or appearing cheap if you don’t reciprocate for each and every person. You give away your time to people that mean little to you and snap at those you love the most during the few moments you can squeeze in with them.

There are times when we need to sacrifice and do things that will bless others. But God didn’t arrange for the birth of Christ to be about following tradition blindly: the very first Christmas defied societal expectations and man-made laws in almost every way!

Ironically, people usually start reading the Christmas story in the Bible at Luke 2, and tradition once again causes us to miss out on things that are really significant. The background information given in the first chapter makes the story even more miraculous! It connects the birth of John the Baptist to the nativity. Before the Lord’s angels appeared to Mary and Joseph, they came to Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias, to tell them that Elizabeth would bear a son who would prepare the way for the Savior. Elizabeth had no value in the community because she was barren. When she conceived, she was far too old to have a child, and she hid herself away for months to avoid causing more reproach as people gossiped about her condition.

But God had a provision for her! After six months, the Lord sent an angel to Mary to tell her that she would become pregnant… before she was married. The Lord knew that Joseph would question Mary’s fidelity (and even more so, her sanity) and sent an angel to him in a dream to confirm the message so that Joseph would respond in faith. Mary traveled right away to tell her relative Elizabeth. Imagine their surprise and joy upon learning that they had both been chosen by God to fulfill His prophecy! The gospel of Luke tells the touching story of how the women spent three months together, comforting and encouraging one another during their unique pregnancies that the rest of the world found difficult to understand.

God sent angels to both of the chosen couples as a clear sign that their faith was not misplaced, and to give them a common vision for His will in the lives of their very special children. But the rest of the community received no such divine intervention. Mary and Joseph- the earthly caregivers for the Savior of the world- were the target of relentless public ridicule throughout their lives. Undoubtedly, they faced blatant accusations that Mary had committed the sin of extra-marital sex (an act punishable by death) and that Joseph was a fool for raising a child that was not his own (did the man really believe that his wife was impregnated by God?). What a tremendous amount of stress on two people who were actually just children themselves- after all, the typical age for marrying during those times was around fourteen.

And the birth place? A barn. The formal birth announcement? Given by shepherds, the dirtiest and poorest of peasants. Innumerable influential leaders questioned the validity of God's message and persecuted Jesus to the death. Yet Mary and Joseph followed what the Lord told them to do despite how things appeared to those around them or how difficult those people made their lives. The couple knew they were following God’s path and were not deterred from it because of other people’s small-mindedness and unbelief. God chose them for their faith.

Christmas can be an extremely stressful time, especially for women who feel the burden of cooking, cleaning, entertaining, and gratifying the needs of their entire extended family and in-laws. Many also feel pressure to conform to family expectations. But we can follow Mary’s example, and trust that God is leading us in the right direction. If we do the things He has called us to do, other people’s opinions won’t deter us. When the decisions we’ve made in our lives are honoring to God, we can cling to our identity in Christ even if other people don’t agree or understand.

God is not into appearances. He looks on the heart. And the ultimate proof of that was in sending His son in a manner that confounded the wise. God deals in the miraculous. He cares nothing for the status quo and the people He used for the greatest events in history were humble people who were not afraid to follow Him in uncoventional ways that were high above their own understanding.

Whatever trials you are facing during Christmas, remember that if you are a Christ-follower, God is for you and no one can be against you. Stay close to Him during stressful times so that you remain focused on His call on your life, and not on what other people expect from you. Find the Elizabeth, Joseph, and Zacharias that God has sent you: the people who understand and support what God is doing in your life. Meditate on the miracles He has already accomplished (in your life and the lives of others) and on the promises He’s given you for the future. And remember the words that Elizabeth told Mary upon hearing that she was pregnant with the Christ child:

"Blessed is she who has believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”! (Luke 1:45, NKJV)

Read Luke Chapters 1 and 2

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