We have all built up nostalgic images of the idyllic Christmas that we remember from the past or the dream Christmas that we always hoped for. But how about the memories of a past Christmas that didn’t quite meet expectations? Do we remember those times or have they faded into the past to be filed among the “never again” moments” of our lives?
My least memorable Christmas took place in December of 1992. We had just moved to northern Sierra Leone to the little village of Kabala from our previous location in Bumban. We’d just moved there after returning from an evacuation due to civil unrest in the country after the 29 April 1992 Military Coup. We had a great new location and house, and were all decorated, prepared, and set for our family Christmas. It was the cool dry season and, in the higher upper elevations in Kabala, it was cooler—maybe 50 Fahrenheit at night—and we could sleep under quilts. It reminded us of the cool snowy Minnesota winters we’d left behind. Things were great until a few short days before Christmas we received a messenger who told us that the insurgents—who were battling the Sierra Leone Military—had been seen within 20 miles of our house. The safety of our family was our priority and so we packed up our children, and a few possession’s along with their presents, and evacuated to the capital city of Freetown to ride out the situation. All my visions of the perfect family Christmas in our new location were shattered. Although I couldn’t see it back then, as I sit here today and reflect on it, I realize what a blessing this is to me as a Pastor. It opens my eyes a little bit more to the first Christmas and the birth of the Christ-child.
Our Christmas’s this year will not be the same due to COVID-19. Family gatherings will be smaller along with the festivities. In most cases we won’t be able to gather with the crowds we normally hang with over the Christmas season. The story of the first Christmas can help us to put these present days in context and frame our celebrations, if we will let the Christmas story of God’s Word speak to our hearts and faith.
Because of the deadline to register for the census, Joseph had to uproot his family also. He and others would no doubt have preferred to not participate but that was not an option. He had to take his near full term pregnant wife on a cross-country donkey ride, along treacherous by-ways, and then lodge in a dirty and smelly animal barn in Bethlehem. His hardships were far more rigorous than mine. My point?
In contrast to the highly commercialized Christmas season we now experience in America, the first Christmas was no cake-walk. For our Savior to arrive in the world of His days, it involved hardship by Joseph and Mary. It also involved the Son of God Himself humbling Himself and taking on human flesh, and being born into the stable in Bethlehem. This was the act of a loving Heavenly Father who cared so much for us that He would send His own Son into the world as our Savior on that first Christmas. This was the act of the Son or God who was willing to be humbled as He was and enter into this sinful world, under less than ideal circumstances, to be our Savior. He would grow up and later suffer the death on the cross for our sins. Do we appreciate what was done for us on that first Christmas and how do we let this guide and form our Christmas worship and family traditions? Do we see in this first Christmas the loving God who sent His Son to be the Prince of Peace? Because if we do, even the darkest times will be lit for us as the Christ child shines like the star of Bethlehem in our lives. ~ Pastor Moss