Before Emmanuel

I watched The Nativity today.

I wanted to understand a bit more about the season we celebrate as Christmas.  I feel that over the years it’s been overrated and it’s lost it’s real meaning because of all the festivities we prepare without completely knowing how the first Christmas was two thousand years ago.

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When I was younger I’d always know the story of Jesus began with the angel appearing to Mary and announcing the virgin birth.  I know that the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream so that he can take Mary as his wife.  I know that Jesus was born in a manger.  I know how Mary and Joseph weren’t given a place at any inn in Bethlehem.  But those simple facts missed may have missed out on what could have really happened.

I realized without understanding the real story, what I know of Christmas may even just be a one dimensional caricature of how the events truly unfolded.

And yes, it’s indeed been like that.

I realized watching the movie that it must have been hard for Mary as a young girl to immediately believe what the angel Gabriel told her.  There was a bit fear and worry on how people may take it.  How she could be judged by her family and her neighbors.  But she continued faithfully and said “Be it done unto me according to Your word.”  Joseph having betrothed himself to Mary now would have been the biggest fool.  She was to bear a son that was not his yet he had the courage to take the ridicule of the town and believed the angel’s words to him in his dream.

This was a big scandal in their society during those days.  People around them looked at them with condemnation.  Their relationship could have been the biggest taboo and I can only wonder what kind of emotions and insecurities Mary and Joseph felt being set apart like that. Yet they clung to the message’s promise.  Through them a Savior will be born.  This was the Messiah they have long waited for.  A Messiah prophesied to redeem their lives.

Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to fulfill the requirement of King Herod where they needed to go back to their hometown for a widespread census.  He was unaware that this was Herod’s plan to find the Messiah who was prophesied to be from the house of David.  So he went and Mary already carrying the child faithfully agreed to go and journey more than a 100 miles on nothing but a donkey to be with her husband.  

How uncomfortable the journey must have been with the extreme desert heat during the day and the biting cold during the night? How much food did they have to ration to sustain their hunger for the entire journey? How tiring could it have been for them to travel for days and not have a place to rest since every innkeeper closed their doors rejecting their plea? How excruciating could the labor be for Mary as she waited on the donkey until Joseph could find them a place to give birth?  How worried and anxious Joseph could have been as he helplessly knocked on every door that just closed shut?

Christmas didn’t start with tinsel and mistletoe.  There weren’t glittering lights that lined up the road to Bethlehem.  Christmas seemed to have began as a man-hunt to slay the child-king because the worldly king refused to let go of his throne and wanted to keep his ambition of power longer than he should.  Christmas seemed to have began as  an apprehensive journey of a couple who was trying to figure out their relationship as man and wife and how they could begin to love one another after their scandalous beginning.  Christmas seemed to have began as struggle with public condemnation and rejection for the two people who were chosen to be the earthly family of the Savior.

Much of what I know about Christmas only dwells on the joyful birth of Jesus.  The silent glory that came upon a midnight clear when the shepherds of a nearby flock walked to the manger and the three kings who traveled for 105 days finally found the Messiah they have been waiting for.  But I have not completely thought about what happened before Jesus’ birth and the kind of struggle that happened before He came.

Perhaps this is what has been missing in how I think about Christmas.  Perhaps this is what has made the festivities feel quite overrated.  Nobody really recalls now what it took for Jesus to arrive.

This makes me reflect on the moments I ask for Jesus to come into my life and make His presence felt or make His work come alive.  I can be impatient in the waiting or I can suffer immense doubts and anxiety when people around me wonder what I am waiting on the Lord for.  I can respond with frustration at their lack of understanding and withdraw into a caved existence so I can shield myself from further scrutiny or ridicule.

But watching this film has made me realize that whenever we want Jesus’ presence there is always that earthly struggle that comes with it. There is always that choice that needs to be made to believe in Him more than what the experiences of rejection and doubt can bring. There is always that waiting and holding on and the aching as if you’re experiencing birth pangs.

And they held on.  Mary and Joseph.  In the dark of the manger.  They held on.  Until in the middle of all labor a bright star gazed back at them and pierced their own darkness which gave them the hope to push on.

And this is Christmas.  Where God’s presence is unveiled from the heavenlies and is wrapped in human flesh. And so to receive Him is to unwrap the frailties of our humanity and receive His.

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