I can’t stop thinking about that first Christmas. I keep picturing the scene—Mary kneeling beside her child, smiling. Joseph with a protective hand on his wife’s shoulder. The animals gathered around, calm and quiet. The shepherds standing outside the tiny stable. The Magi kneeling with gifts.
Such a serene image. But I doubt it actually looked like the sweet nativity sets many of us set out during this season. You know why? Because love is messy.
Christmas and Easter stand at the very core of what love looks like. You can’t have one without the other. Every time I’ve pictured the babe in the wooden feeding trough, my mind quickly jumps to the bloodied man on the cross. Bloodied he came into this world He had created, and bloodied He gave up His spirit before rising three days later.
All for love.
I imagine Mary’s pain as contraction after contraction hit her. Whether she and Joseph were just arriving to Bethlehem as the movies show, or they had been there for a few days before her labor started, I’m sure she wasn’t exactly enjoying herself. I wonder what was going through her mind when she was able to think beyond the pain. Did it help to know that she was about to deliver the Son of God into the world? Or did that idea scare her to death? How would she know how to raise him? Not only is she a new mother, but she’s been given the responsibility to parent Messiah.
And what about Joseph? Were there others around to deal with the women’s work of delivery, or was he the only one there, having to step into a role he wasn’t ready for? Did he doubt Mary’s claim about the baby she carried, or the dream given to him by the angel, confirming her story? Did he wonder about his role as father?
Then the shepherds, startled out of their routine and the mundane as a host of angels sang about the good news. A Savior is born! For every man! Tripping, fumbling, trying to keep all of their sheep together, they hurried to the place where the star hovered over the baby as He slept–mother beside Him exhausted, Joseph protective as the group approaches.
Then days, or perhaps years, later as the young family settles into a routine, they are interrupted once again by three magi–wise men from the east who had noticed a strange star and had followed it, only to find a humble newborn King to lay their gifts before.
No, that first Christmas was anything but silent.
And I think that’s what amazes me most.
God could have set up the ideal situation—Mary could have been married when she became pregnant. She and Joseph could have skipped the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem while she was expecting. He could have provided a nice, comfortable place for Mary to have the baby that didn’t smell like manure. In fact, He could have skipped the whole pregnancy and infancy step and gone straight to the thirty-year old teacher.
But He didn’t. Jesus came as a baby. Small, fragile, innocent. He came dependent. He came in flesh, fully human, yet fully divine—fully God. He came and walked in the dirt and dust. He was delivered into our mess and lived in it for thirty-three years. And He let our mess kill Him. He let our mess put Him to death, and He bore the penalty of our sin.
You can’t have Christmas without Easter. Christmas is great, the fact that God came. Our Savior, the promised Messiah. Just as the prophets spoke. But He came for a purpose, to become our sacrificial lamb, our atonement for every sin we ever have and ever will commit.
He came for love, to make a way for that crazy relationship with God Almighty.
He came to save.
That tiny baby…He came for love.
I’m not going to lie—love is the thing God’s been challenging me the most on this Christmas. Because the truth is, love hurts. It’s messy and painful. It’s hard giving love and not receiving it in return. It’s hard dealing with the hurt and still loving because that’s what God asks of me; because that’s what He does for me.
How well He is acquainted with giving everything He is for love, yet being rejected. He knows the pain. Yet He keeps loving. Not just a tolerable kind of love; that’s not really love. No, even in the midst of rejection, He’s giving His all, laying it all out there, putting His heart on the line, being vulnerable no matter how we respond to Him.
I love this quote from Mother Teresa: “Give, but give until it hurts.”
We can give all the material possessions we want. Our wallet can ache from all the shopping and our hands can hurt from all the wrapping and baking. But the greatest gift we can give this Christmas–and every day of every year–is the gift of love. We aren’t to give it to the point we feel comfortable or stop giving it when we begin to feel the pain. We give and give and give as Jesus did and does.
We give until it hurts.
We give to those who don’t deserve it.
We give when our hearts are crying for us to stop and we think we can’t bear it any longer.
We give, and we let Jesus give through us the same way He gave to us.
We love with a love that trusts and hopes and believes and endures—a love that never fails.
We love with a love that is patient and kind and doesn’t seek our own gain.
We love with a love that lays down our lives for our friends and family and even strangers.
We love because God first loved us and gave Himself to us.
Dear hear, I know it’s really easy for us to get caught up in all the holiday hoopla. But let us be open this year—beyond Christmas day—to let God teach us how to love, really truly love like Him. It’ll be hard and painful, and at times we’ll be able to see the reward of that love. But don’t do it for the reward. Love because God did it first. Love because when we do, heaven comes down to earth and God dwells in that moment, in that heart, in that love.
Live in His love!