At Christmas, expect trouble ahead
December 21, 2022
They were living in dangerous times, Mary and Joseph. Political chaos swirled in the air. Maybe not the best season to bring a child into the world…. Then that decree came out from the Roman emperor/oppressor announcing mandatory tax registration, and not close to home either. Expecting or not, special child or not, the pair-plus-almost-one set out, traveling through occupied territory, expending limited resources at a vulnerable moment in their lives. Arriving in Bethlehem, exhausted, they could not find a place to stay.
Come, thou long expected Jesus.
Without the assistance of wealthy relatives or influential contacts, the couple accepted sub-optimal space for the night in a cave-like stable that housed a large animal or two. It could be that the stress and strain of the journey brought on Mary’s labor soon thereafter. Or maybe she would have given birth anywhere. In any case, their little one was born in that makeshift nursery, away from all that was comfortable and familiar. And to add to the strangeness, some shepherds from nearby fields stopped by to see the baby. Angels had told them about the birth, they said—a lot of angels.
Born to set thy people free.
A tiny life—a healthy boy! Summoning the energy and strength remaining to them, the new parents focused on their baby’s care. But outside, not too far off, those shepherds were spreading their news, talking about all those angels who said a Savior had been born. The couple was tired, alone and, literally, had a babe in arms. Dangerous times. Still, there was a chance no one would believe those shepherds.
From our fears and sins release us.
It is likely Mary and Joseph wanted Jesus’ birth to be more intimate, less exposed. At the very least, they wanted to get home safely and make the required sacrifice. Then could recover, adjust to parenthood, take time to ponder. The visit to the Temple did not exactly reassure them, though. True, Anna and Simeon prophesied that their child’s future would be blessed and, somehow, redemptive. But the prophets did not hold back the bad news. Besides the light and glory, there would be difficult days, challenge, even heartbreak….
Inviting Jesus to come and enter into our lives means embracing the unfamiliar, challenging the powerful, opening our circle of inclusion wider, sharing the gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Welcoming Jesus gives joy, peace, and hope; it also requires courage and sacrifice and, sometimes, brings heartbreak.
Let us find our rest in thee.
And then the astronomers showed up. They probably had an entourage. Important people transporting treasure across the desert probably do not travel without security or food, water, cooks, and camel herders. There would be no hiding in plain sight, no flying under the radar. Jesus had come to change their lives; there would be trouble.
Born a child and yet a King.
The gifts of the magi caught everyone’s attention. Scarce, coveted, and costly, the precious metal and spices presented to Jesus were often reserved for royalty. Ensuring wealth, resilience and vitality, the gold, frankincense, and myrrh represented an anointing of power. Starlight became spotlight; there would be no flying under the radar now. The wise men and company predicted as much—and turned to go home by another way.
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
The current king, Herod, did not take kindly to this threat to his power. Joseph and Mary pulled up stakes and left behind what they knew. Running for their lives, for Jesus’ life, did not feel like the coming of any kingdom, certainly not a gracious one. Having Jesus in their lives marked them; they were in full realization mode now. Embracing their future in both trepidation and faith, they went out into the unknown. Jesus had upended their lives and always would. The trouble had transformed them.
Now Thy gracious “kin-dom” bring.
We do celebrate Christmas with great joy as we remember the arrival of Jesus, our hope and our salvation. The coming of God’s kingdom or “kin-dom” is gracious indeed. But Jesus’ coming is also a day of reckoning for those who wield power unjustly, for those who do not share but amass wealth, for those who think they deserve the privilege they have been born into and that everyone should look as they look, believe as they believe, speak their language. It was trouble for King Herod as it is for those today who send strangers in danger away, against their will to a different state, for someone else to deal with. Christmas spells trouble for those who cannot see the Holy One standing right in front of them.
Come, thou long expected Jesus.
Inviting Jesus to come and enter into our lives means embracing the unfamiliar, challenging the powerful, opening our circle of inclusion wider, sharing the gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Welcoming Jesus gives joy, peace, and hope; it also requires courage and sacrifice and, sometimes, brings heartbreak. So, as we hang lights, buy gifts, and sing about the birth of a baby, let’s do it in full realization mode, as Mary and Joseph finally did. Jesus is coming—to save and to change our lives.
Laura Alden is a writer and a member of First Baptist Church, Pottstown, Pennsylvania. She served as publisher of Judson Press from 2003 to 2021.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.