Isn't Christmas supposed to be a time of hope and joy? A time when we remember that the impossible is possible? A season for rejoicing that God isn't content to be some far-off, impersonal being, but cares so much about us that He showed up among us?
Yes, it is all of those things. But Jesus was born into the same world that you and I live in today. Jesus was born to a broke teenage mother. He was born into an occupied nation ruled by outsiders. He was born in a world that was not so merry -- the diseased were outcasts, women were stoned at even the suspicion of impropriety, and children were senselessly slaughtered.
Some time in the past 2,000 years, we've forgotten the reality of the first Christmas -- its stark juxtaposition of joy and pain.
We see the glittering side of Christmas in all the bright displays, in the commercials on every channel and the songs that permeate our public spaces.
But the pain of Christmas is there just below the surface.
Just beneath the glitter and the paper and the ever-cheerful tunes, we hurt again with the news of another police officer killed in the line of duty while serving a college that has seen more than its share of tragedy.
News of another trusted coach accused of assaulting another innocent child.
Stories of women on the other side of the world whose repeated rapes are perpetrated as another senseless act of another senseless war.
But so much of the pain is more personal. It hits much closer to home.
A dear friend is rejected for that much-needed, much-prayed-for organ transplant.
A parent is facing her first Christmas without a beloved spouse.
A neighbor is losing his house, and so much more, to foreclosure.
Our Christmas cards don't show this reality. And we do our best to look the other way, too. We'd often much rather fa-la-la our way through the Christmas season. But that's not real Christmas. One of the most amazing things about Christmas is that God chose to come into this world that is so full of injustice, violence and disappointment. Jesus wasn't born into a utopian society to well-to-do parents. He was born right here among us.
So He gets it when you hurt. He feels it when anger wells up in you because of life's injustices. He grieves right along with you through your losses and discouragements. He lived it, so he gets it.
That's the Jesus of Christmas. That's the Jesus of the Bible.
I believe we can celebrate Christmas more fully when we appreciate the Jesus whose birthday it marks. There's much more to Jesus than just a perfect baby born in a perfect manger on a perfectly silent night. If that's all we ever see Him as, we've missed the whole point of Christmas.
This Christmas, I challenge everyone to get to know the real Jesus who came into the real world for the sake of real people. Why not read what happened after the manger? His story is as close as the nearest Bible.