Today is Advent Sunday, the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day – It marks the beginning of a season which many will associate with growing anticipation, even impatience, for the coming of Christmas. Nostalgic Christmas songs send shivers down our spines. Violet or blue colours adorn trees and churches, representing a Royal coming. In a culture and society where faith is increasingly ridiculed, the tangible sense of excitement for Christmas is striking. For many, advent and Christmas bring great family reunions and joy. For others, however, it’s a time of domestic conflict. For many it’s a time of isolation enforced by disability. Legacies of bad relationships isolate others at what is, essentially, a time of communal celebration.
The season was far from joyful for a young couple in the Middle East. An engagement had almost been shattered by an unexpected pregnancy. Then the soon-to-be mother, heavily pregnant, had to make the 111km journey to meet the requirements for a census. There were no cars. The options were to travel on foot or on the back of an animal: neither were comfortable or convenient for a girl nine months pregnant. Physically and mentally exhausted, they finally arrived but were rejected by every hotel. Ultimately they spent the night in an animal house. Of course, we’re talking about Mary and Joseph. In the sanitised children’s stories, we often forget how challenging the period was for them and for their relationship. Jesus was born on Christmas Day, not into a perfect family home, warm and decorated. Neither was he born into one of our neat visions of a stable full of endearing animals. Rather, he was born into a place which was stinking, dirty, dark, cramped and embarrassing. Childbirth is always dangerous, but the risks in that context were even greater. Jesus was born right into the midst of intense struggle.
Advent, the coming of Christmas, is one of the hardest times of life for countless people. At a time which is portrayed by songs as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, many are stuck in the deepest of darkness. The wonderful news of Advent, and coming of Christmas, is that God had such desire to relate to our struggles, that He came down into the darkness and riskiness of life. His coming to a terrified young couple, brings hope, light and inspiration that is sufficient to transform any life. His coming tells us that God understands our struggles.
Image Credit: Jeff Weese