Christmas is tomorrow, and if we are being totally honest, I’m not ready for it.
I haven’t started wrapping presents. I haven’t even finished making them.
Cookies have not been baked, and I barely got the last package in the mail yesterday. There is always so much to do in order to be ready for Christmas, which is probably why it’s not my favorite holiday.
As Christmas approaches, I’ve been trying to imagine what it would have actually been like on the day Jesus was born: the smell of the farm animals, the scratchy hay, His tiny fingers curled around Mary’s. Whatever it was actually like, I’m sure Mary and Joseph weren’t ready for it either.
The New Testament Survey class I took my freshman year enlightened me to the realities of Mary and Joseph’s situation. Both teenagers and unmarried, Mary’s pregnancy was seen as a major scandal in their town- not too different from the way many Christians view teenage pregnancies today. No one believed Mary was actually a virgin. I mean, who would? Even Joseph didn’t believe her without a direct message from God. The result of this “scandal” made the couple an outcast in society and was probably the reason they were unable to find a shelter when Mary was about to give birth.
I wonder how Mary and Joseph felt about that. It doesn’t seem like too much of a leap to suggest that they were disappointed or confused. They probably never expected that obeying God would result in punishment and exclusion from the society they lived in.
And what about their inability to find shelter? Of course, it would be uncomfortable for anyone to spend the night outside, much less a young teenager trying to give birth to her first child. But I wonder how Mary and Joseph felt about that.
Think about it.
Mary is about to give birth to her firstborn, and He is not a normal baby. He is God. She probably thought He deserved a royal palace, a beautiful cradle, soft blanket, and all the comfort imaginable. But, she is poor, and Joseph cannot even find a place for her to give birth indoors. As the primary provider for the family, Joseph probably felt terrible. The best he could provide for his little baby and soon-to-be wife was a stable with some stinky animals (some theology majors insist it was a cave). I know that if it were me, I would be afraid God would be mad at me. God deserves the best, and Mary and Joseph failed to give Him that.
It’s no coincidence that the story which started the largest international holiday is made of human shortcomings. I wouldn’t blame Mary and Joseph if they felt like failures for bringing Jesus into the world in such dirty and impoverished conditions. I wouldn’t blame them if they felt ashamed because their family and friends did not believe they were actually pure.
However, from Mary and Joseph’s story, it appears God doesn’t require perfection when He chooses people to change the world. He doesn’t mind if others view us as failures or even if we view ourselves that way! When we feel like we aren’t good enough for God, we need to remind ourselves that a willingness to obey (no matter how inconvenient) is enough.
God was completely capable of giving Mary and Joseph the ideal location to welcome their baby. God could have changed the entire town’s hearts and attitudes towards them. But He did not.
For a reason.
Perhaps God wanted to show that even when we feel like failures, we are still valuable to Him.
Celebrating Christmas for me this year is the acceptance of this truth: strength does not rest in my accomplishments but in God’s grace that turns my failures into His victories.