THIS Christmas is like no other we have had in the past. Christmas had provided us fun-loving Filipinos the grand occasion for month-long celebrations.
It had come to mean lots of shopping and decorating, parties and family reunions, feastings and revelry, caroling and musicals, vacation and travels.
The pandemic and the GCQ halted all that for us. The mood has become somber and sobering as too many have lost jobs, businesses, family members, livelihoods, and the freedom to move around.
When hardship, or tragedy, or unknown fears hit us, we start asking questions – why is this happening? Where is God in all these? Where we look for answers will either make us disillusioned or it could lead us to redemption in some sense, we may be able to grasp more the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth that we have often overlooked in our past celebratory spirit.
This Christmas is a good time to reflect on what the family of Mary and Joseph experienced that “first Christmas”.
Stigma and Scandal. Mary’s ordinary life turned upside down. Living in a small town of large extended family homes of about 500 people called Nazareth, Mary was about to formally wed Joseph as arranged previously.
They were betrothed, set aside for each other the previous year, while Joseph prepared their home and have Mary join him to consummate their marriage. A happy occasion all of a sudden became a scandal-ridden event when Mary became pregnant.
Joseph was going to divorce Mary quietly until an angel convinced him of Mary’s innocence, and proceeded with taking her as his wife. But news traveled fast in such a close community, and Mary had to live with the stigma of that pregnancy especially for people who could not believe her story.
Disruption and Difficulty. The census for tax purposes caused Mary and Joseph to travel to their ancestral town, but it was also meant to fulfill a prophecy on the birthplace of the Messiah (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:1-5).
They had to take the arduous and grueling 129- kilometers journey by foot/donkey in winter with Mary on her 9th month! After several days of exhausting travel, they finally reached Bethlehem. Yet another frustration awaited them. There was no room to be had and Mary had to deliver their baby – in a smelly stable!
Danger and Death. The visit of the wise men from the east who saw the star triggered the insecurity of King Herod who ordered the massacre of children two years old and below in an attempt to stop the “ruler who will shepherd Israel”.
The family had to flee and traveled another 65 kilometers to an Egyptian territory to escape the danger posed to their child. They had to wait out a few years far from family and friends until Herod’s death before they could travel the 170 kilometers back to Nazareth.
What a way to welcome “Immanuel” God with us! But it is precisely in such a world and as we have now, that Jesus came! “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10b).
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Matthew 1;21; Luke 2:11). It is a message of hope that God has not given up on us despite the mess we have made of our lives and of the world entrusted to humanity.
He has not left us to our human devices, though capable of brilliance, inventions, innovations, development, yet also has the capacity to commit such evil as mass murder, human trafficking, greed, wars, and destruction.
In that first visit, He was unrecognized and rejected by many. “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—John 1:10-12. To those who believed and received, even now, His presence comes, and could celebrate Immanuel – God with us!
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