This year Christmas may be uncomfortable, depending on where you live in the world. It may be uncomfortable because family and relatives aren’t allowed to hug, will only see each other with a mask or via a screen and may not be able to meet as a large group in the family home.
Maybe you always find Christmas uncomfortable. Maybe you have to travel long distances to see your family. Perhaps the distance has created emotional barriers where you no longer feel connected to the people you’re biologically related to. Spending large amounts of time with people you hardly know and eating large amounts of food can leave you feeling highly uncomfortable.
Christmas uncomfortableness is normal
Christmas has always been uncomfortable. First, Elizabeth has a baby in her old age. Although a great blessing could hardly have been a comfortable experience. Then a virgin girl is told she is going to become pregnant, immediately (Luke chapter 1 verse 34). This seems like a bad plan. Why wouldn’t God pick someone who was already married, perhaps another barren wife, like Elizabeth, who desperately wanted to have a child? In Mary’s culture having sex outside of marriage invited the death penalty (see John chapter 8 verse 5) and the stigma of being pregnant before she was married, never left Mary. (Mark chapter 6 verse 3. A man was only called his mother’s son if there was doubt about his legitimacy).
Next, there is a long and uncomfortable trip to Bethlehem. We aren’t even told if Mary and Joseph owned a donkey. It’s hard to imagine Mary walked that far in the later stages of pregnancy yet a donkey ride would hardly be relaxing. And when they get to their destination the inns are all full, surely God has messed up the timing? Why would he send his Son into the world in the middle of a census knowing the upheaval it would cause?
Finally, Jesus is born in something resembling a barn, perhaps a cave. He slept in a feeding trough. What was God thinking? Nothing seems to have gone according to plan. At least, nothing has gone according to the way we would have planned it.
Few have the heart to obey God as Mary did. She is told that something is about to happen that has never happened before in the history of the world. How does she respond?
By saying, “I am the Lord’s servant … May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke chapter 1 verse 38). Colloquially, she was saying, “Yes, I’m available. I’m up for this.”
I’m always amazed Mary didn’t say, “Before I agree to this, I’d better check with Joseph. I wouldn’t want to be an unmarried mother.” Mary agreed before she knew Joseph’s response or the response of her family which I’m sure wasn’t favourable. Who would ever believe her? Yet Mary never complains.
Following Mary’s agreement, God’s Son needed to be born in Bethlehem to fulfil Micah’s prophesy (Micah chapter 5 verse 2). Everyone knew this. The chief priests even told King Herod (Matthew chapter 2 verse 6). God used a census to get Mary to his appointed place.
Then, the shepherds needed to find God’s Son. How were they were going to find him with so many extra people staying in town? The angels gave the shepherds a sign. “And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger” (Luke chapter 2 verse 12 KJV).
It’s believed these shepherds looked after the sheep destined for Passover. According to the Mishnah, which is a collection of Jewish traditions, there were specific requirements about lambs destined for Passover. They were to be wrapped in swaddling cloths immediately after their births to prevent possible defects. The shepherds knew swaddling cloths would be with the Passover lambs, so that’s where they went. And there they found Jesus, the Lamb of God, wrapped in swaddling cloths. Jesus was always destined to be, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John chapter 1 verse 29).
God’s attention to detail is remarkable.
God’s uncomfortable ways
From the Christmas story, we learn that our comfort isn’t high on God’s agenda! And never has been.
When David decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. He decided to use a cart (2 Samuel chapter 6 verse 3). Twice we’re told it was a “new cart.” David had gone to some trouble, but not enough. When disaster struck, and Uzzah died, David realized his mistake. God had given specific instructions for moving the ark and it didn’t include a cart (1 Chronicles chapter 15 verse 15).
The ark was overlaid with gold. It was extremely heavy and it was being moved a long way. For David, a cart was a convenient solution but it wasn’t God’s way.
As we celebrate Christmas 2020, it may be uncomfortable in unexpected ways. So much about this year has been uncomfortable. Yet, God doesn’t allow difficulties without reason. His plans are beyond our imagining and his attention to detail is astonishing. His highest priority is to grow us into Christ-likeness, whatever it takes, whatever the cost, whatever the uncomfortableness.
Susan Barnes has been involved in pastoral ministry for over twenty years with her husband, Ross. They are now semi-retired and enjoy supporting a number of churches in north-east Victoria. You can find more of Susan’s articles at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/susan-barnes.html