Christmas is a time of traditions. There are traditions of what we eat, who we buy presents for – how they are wrapped and opened. Traditions of where the Christmas dinner table is set and who is sitting around it.
Traditions can change, and there is nothing wrong with that. We get older, get married, maybe even move away from our childhood homes. New people are in the family and thus, new traditions are created. But that is what is so great about this time of year. Things can change but the basic notion of Christmas will always remain the same – a time of family and friends, a time of love, and a time of hope.
Probably one of my favorite Christmas songs is “O Holy Night.” One tradition my family had when I was growing up was to celebrate Christmas Eve with family, then attend midnight mass. Listening to “O Holy Night” being sung within the hallowed walls of church can give you goosebumps. No matter the traditions we have, this song tells us what Christmas truly is; a season of hope.
O holy night, the stars are brightly shining…
The first Christmas was celebrated by one family. Cold and finally able to rest after walking for days, Mary and Joseph took shelter in a barn. And it was in this barn, surrounded by livestock, that Jesus entered this world.
None of Mary and Joseph’s extended family were present to witness the birth of their grandson or nephew. There wasn’t a fancy party or huge celebration. There were no gifts for the new parents or their child.
In fact, the wise men, while an integral part of all nativity scenes, didn’t actually show up until anywhere from months to years later to present their gifts to Jesus. But it was on this holy, quiet night that hope entered the world.
The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices….
Life can be hard. It can be full of struggles and heartbreak. There can be a desire for perfection that can never be met. Often this is felt most at the holidays. A time that is supposed to be relaxing can often be the most stressful. Loved ones are missed most this time of year. Thoughts dance through our heads wondering if the gifts, the decorations, the food is all perfect.
But life will never be perfect (and neither will our holidays). Our world will be weary, but we have a hope in Jesus. All the brokenness and tears and imperfections of our lives are redeemed by that baby laying in a manger.
When Mary and Joseph held Jesus for the first time, I wonder if they knew the hope he would bring to this world? Did they fully grasp on that holy night in Bethlehem that this tiny baby would someday take on the weight of the world and die for all our sins on a good Friday? I wonder if they knew when they celebrated his first steps and his first words that their son would walk on water, heal the sick, raise the dead and move mountains.
I’m curious if the shepherds – the ones tending their flock in the dark fields on that night – if they understood how majestic a moment that was when the angels appeared.
Fall on your knees, o hear the angels voices….
These shepherds weren’t that different from you and me. They weren’t rich or part of royal families. They were outcasts in their society and it was to these outcasts that God chose to welcome first to greet Christ the child.
A child who entered the world on a quiet night, but who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. A child who would grow into a man that would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our sins, but this punishment would bring us peace and by his wounds we would be healed. For this to happen, it required a birth on a holy night.
This Christmas season, I pray that you can find Christ. That he can be seen in the faces of family and friends as you gather around your dinner table. That you can see him in the eyes of strangers as you quickly nod and exchange holiday greetings in your comings and goings. That you can find hope and light in dark and uncomfortable places. That traditions aside, we can remember what Christmas truly is – a baby laying in a manger, born to give us hope. And I pray that we can continue to find hope throughout the year, and not just on one holy night in late December.