The First Christmas was Hard

Merry Christmas, readers! I hope today is merry and bright for you, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s a little bittersweet for a number of reasons. If today is hard — if this whole season has been hard — you’re in good company. The first Christmas was no picnic.

We’ve made the nativity scene picturesque: pristine Virgin Mary, smiling demurely at her clean little newborn. Joseph stands by protectively, while the wise men and shepherds impart their gifts together and the star glistens peacefully above. But the true story — the one that happened over 2000 years ago — is anything but clean, easy, and comfortable.

Our sweet virgin Mary always looks calm and serene in paintings and sculptures. But the truth is, she had a rough go of it. No pregnant, unwed teenager in first-century Israel was about to have an easy time, no matter how immaculate the conception. The ridicule alone was a significant cost of her obedience to God, not to mention a near divorce. But the birth experience was definitely less than ideal.

At nine-months pregnant she traveled hours, possibly days, on the back of a donkey, hard and unforgiving. When it came time to give birth, she wasn’t surrounded by supportive family and friends, laid comfortably on a bed in a nice, clean home. Instead, her companions were barn animals, her bed was made of hay, and everything probably smelled like manure. No nurse or midwife is mentioned, so we can assume that she and Joseph birthed this child alone. Even by first-century standards, Mary ushered the Messiah into the world in some pretty harsh conditions.

Now move your eyes with me to the baby in the manger. He is often portrayed as sleeping or smiling, just as serene as his mother. I can’t imagine that was actually the case. That baby had spent eternity past sitting on the throne in Paradise, an arm’s reach from God the Father. Now for the first time, he felt hunger. Cold. Want. He had to cry just to have his basic needs met, and he chose possibly the least glamorous place in the world, a dirty barn, to make his arrival. Animals ate out of his bed. 

And lest we forget, that sweet little baby is actually the Savior of the world. He is the fullness of God, the almighty. Yet He humbled himself to become the most helpless thing anyone could imagine. 

After such an uncomfortable birth, you would think the worst is over, right? Not quite.

Thanks to the bravery of the “wise men,” Mary and Joseph learn that there’s a warrant out for their sweet baby’s death. Herod, threatened by words like “king” and “worship” in the prophecies surrounding baby Jesus, made plans to have him killed. So Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus fled to Egypt, where they spent the next several years hiding from Herod. They learned to live in a foreign land just to stay alive. 

All this is to say, the first Christmas was anything but easy.  But oh, what glory we find in things that aren’t easy! That baby, the only one in history who chose to be born, came down from Heaven meek and mild. His frail human life, and later his sacrifice, bridged the gap between us and himself. So if your holidays are hard, celebrate. The hard things bring us closer to Him.

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