Previously appeared in: The Baptist & Reflector (December 12, 2012): 4.
It seems that many people think you can only celebrate Christmas if all is well. You can see this in the various statements beginning with, “It just does not seem like Christmas because ….” Perhaps we set ourselves up for failure by expecting everything to be just right at this time of the year.
If we pay attention to the Biblical text we notice that Christmas is in no way connected to things going well. In fact, as we can see from numerous texts, Christmas is typically set in dark and difficult situations. The message of Christmas is that God is still at work in such times accomplishing salvation for His people. This is why there is hope and why we can be merry despite what may be happening around us.
One place we see this is in the familiar Christmas story in Luke 2. The chapter opens by stating that the pagan Roman emperor had decreed that people would have to register for tax purposes. This would certainly not have been received as good news by Jewish people in that time. First of all, what government requires registration for taxes in order to decrease taxes? This decree would have been an odious reminder of their subjugation under pagan rule. This decree was a symbol of oppression. They were not free and had to pay high taxes to far away rulers who served idols. Furthermore they would have to return to their hometowns in a day when travel was difficult and costly. For those like Joseph’s family who had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, this would be a long journey which would interrupt work (and thus pay) and exact a toll on the family.
It is highly likely that this decree of Caesar’s would have been met with protest among the Jews of the day. Some may have cried out, “Where is God? Why does He allow us to be so mistreated? When will he deliver us? Does he care? Has he forgotten us? Is our suffering hidden from God?”
What they could not know was that God was right there working through this hateful decree to bring the Savior into the world. God was at work moving the heart of this unbelieving king to make this decree so that Joseph and Mary would travel to Bethlehem so the Messiah could be born there in fulfillment of prophecy. The very thing which looked to them like evidence of oppression was actually the beginning of deliverance. What looked like the absence of God was preparation for the incarnation, Immanuel, “God with us”. When God seemed most absent, He was there working as He often does, in the dark, accomplishing the deliverance of His people.
This is fruitful to ponder and apply to our own lives. Christmas is not the pretence that all is well now. Such pretence is a sham and people see through it as Scrooge did. No, Christmas is the blessed assurance that God is still at work redeeming His people. It is the reminder that God accomplishes salvation even when it looks bad. This gives us hope and points us forward to the coming day when God will make all things right. With this truth in mind we can celebrate in hope and declare our hope and joy as a statement of faith.