So what was the first Christmas like? We really don’t know the time of year for certain. But there were no Christmas celebrations, because there wasn’t anything to celebrate yet. No decorations, no carols, no family gatherings, no holiday sales, no crowded malls. The story according to the Bible is really something quite different.
For starters, when Mary submitted to God’s plan, she realized that she would be considered to be a fornicator and a brazen liar for her story about the angel. Not just a liar, but a blasphemer, blaming God for her condition. To make matters worse, Joseph didn’t believe her. How could he?
But an angel visited Joseph, too. He was told to accept this. Joseph would be considered to be either a fornicator or a stupid sucker for believing Mary’s story. Both of them would be mocked for their decision to obey God’s direction in their lives.
That’s not the way we usually think about it, but it’s the reality of their situation. Then it gets worse.
Rome, the foreign occupying government, ordered a census, undoubtedly to levy a tax. Terrific. They would have to walk to Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral home. It would mean at least a week of travel in Mary’s condition. It gets worse.
When they finally arrived, the little town was packed with others who had recently arrived for the same reason. Everyone would be staying until the census was over. The inn was full. There were no rooms available. They would have to stay in a stable. And worse yet… on that night, when everything was going wrong, the baby was born.
This is how the newborn King arrived. Not in a palace, with wealth, luxury, and comfort, but in a stable, with an animal feeding trough for a crib. Surely God could have arranged for a palace. What was He trying to tell us?
Maybe things are not all Jingle Bells and the Most Wonderful Time of the Year for you these days. God understands. And maybe, in the midst of your struggles, God is at work. Maybe someday you will look back and see that, in spite of what now seems like a disaster, God was doing something special, miraculous, and sacred in your life.
Mary and Joseph could not have imagined that two thousand years later, we would celebrate that night and see it as a sacred event; that they would be the figurines on our mantles. For them it must have seemed that everything was going wrong. But God transformed a stable and a manger into something sacred, and turns crosses into empty tombs.