At this time of year the story of Christmas and Christ’s coming to earth as a baby is often portrayed as one which brings warm thoughts to our hearts — a brand new baby, a young mother and her new husband, a twinkling starry night, angels singing, awestruck shepherds, a star over Bethlehem, a cozy hay-filled stable. Admittedly, those elements do paint a pretty picture.
But it was the beginning, and beginnings are usually characterized with fanfare, anticipation, and unfaltering hope. After all, what could possibly go wrong with this beautiful picture?
For those of us who know the story of Jesus’ life, we realize that an ominous shadow loomed over the place where the Child lay. After all, it was because of sin and the inevitable consequence of death that this Baby was born—not because of His own sin, but ours. Before this pure and holy Child would return to His Father, He would experience the ultimate pain that anyone has to bear: betrayal.
As singles anticipating Christmas, perhaps many of us are reminded more of our own stories of betrayal, dashed hopes, and wonderful beginnings gone awry, than we are of the cozy family gatherings that everyone, supposedly, experiences at Christmas. The wonder of it all is dimmed somewhat by the obvious fact that life for us isn’t the “norm”.
Perhaps the reason Christmas brings such mixed feelings of wonder and pain is because that is what the story of Christmas is really all about. We often think Christmas should be about the joy which this season is supposed to bring us. But joy is only one side of the Christmas story. While memories of betrayal and disappointment seem to be intruders at Christmas, let’s not forget that Jesus faced them, too, that first Christmas.
He humbled Himself to come to earth as a helpless baby in order to give His people unconditional love, to heal their broken hearts, to bring them unexplainable joy and peace, and abundant life both now and for eternity. But those for whom He came were the very ones who rejected Him, betrayed Him, and were unfaithful to Him. In the end they killed Him—the ultimate betrayal.
Before we shake our heads, let’s ask ourselves where we would have been that night before He died. Would we have told His enemies where He was in order to earn a little extra cash? Would we have fallen asleep while He agonized over His upcoming death? Perhaps we would have fled the scene rather than standing at His side, or denied we ever knew Him. We know the pain of such betrayal in our own lives, and would rather not picture ourselves betraying our Lord. But just as the motives of the disciples deceived them, our motives often deceive us. Perhaps we refuse His grace to live purely and uprightly because we value our own pleasure above a life of sacrifice for Him. Perhaps we reject one of His own because they don’t look or act just right for our tastes. Perhaps we have refused His free gift of salvation because we want to be our own boss. Or perhaps, because we’d rather cling to the meager comfort that anger over past wrongs brings us, we refuse His grace to forgive, or His peace, or His joy. He came to t his earth to give us all of this, and more, and yet when we refuse them, we take part in the betrayal of this One who gave His life for us. It’s sobering to realize that the pain of betrayal we think we don’t deserve, we have all imposed on that precious Baby whom we adore and worship at Christmas.
No, Christmas isn’t just about happy family gatherings and wide-eyed children and the perfect gift for everyone. It’s about a pure and perfect love that chose to be betrayed and rejected. It’s about sin and death. It’s about a Saviour who lived and died to redeem us from the effects of all of these. It’s about a Heaven where the pain of betrayal and disappointment on this earth will be completely erased.
When those unwanted memories and dashed dreams and disappointments creep into all the festivity this Christmas, let’s remember they were present on that first Christmas, too. That Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes would someday be betrayed by all those He came to love. But He came anyway, to show His faithfulness to us—a faithfulness and enduring love we don’t deserve, but long for anyway.
That’s truly a wonder we can celebrate this Christmas.