By Matt B. Redmond
Because the manger is the most hopeful place in the universe
Excitement and expectation colour the season but there is no hiding the fact that Christmas is difficult for many people. The joy of the season has always been a thorn in the side of those who can scarcely imagine joy. For many, Christmas feels impossible to enjoy because it is clouded with the pain of heartbreak, loneliness and loss.
I get it. I mean, Christmas is often expected to be heavily concentrated family time. Yet, broken relationships, financial hardship, divorce or an empty seat at the table only remind some of heartache and pain. What makes it the most wonderful time of the year is also what makes it the most brutal time of the year. My own family has not been immune to this phenomenon.
But allow me to push back against this idea a little. Gently. I think we have it all backwards. We have it sunk deep into our culture that Christmas is for the happy people. Christmas is for people who laugh easily, right? The successful and the beautiful, who live in suburban bliss, can easily enjoy the holidays. They are beaming after watching a Christmas movie curled up on the couch as a family in front of their big flat-screen TV. We live and act as if these are the people who should be enjoying Christmas.
But this is backwards. Christmas – the great story of Jesus come in human form to rescue mankind from the consequences of rebellion – is for everyone, especially those who need a rescue. Jesus was born as a baby to know the pain and sympathise with our weaknesses. Jesus was made to be like us so that in His resurrection we can be made like Him; free from the fear of death and the pain of loss. Jesus' first recorded worshippers were not of the beautiful class. They were poor, ugly shepherds, beat down by life and labour. They had been looked down on by society.
Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer, and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream. Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely. Christmas is for those whose marriages have crashed against the wall and are threatening to flip over. Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence. Christmas is for prostitutes, adulterers, and 'adult film' actors who long for love in every wrong place. Christmas is for students who are sitting in the midst of the family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who have many failed dreams. Christmas is for those who have squandered the family name and fortune – they want "home" but cannot imagine a gracious welcome back. Christmas is for parents watching their children's lives and marriages fall into disarray.
Christmas is really about God's undeserved kindness for sinners: that Jesus opened the way for God's complete forgiveness and for eternal life with Him. Because of all that Jesus Christ did on the cross, the manger becomes the most hopeful place in a universe darkened with hopelessness.
In the irony of all ironies, the Christmas-time celebration of the coming of the Saviour of mankind is especially for those who will find it the hardest to enjoy. Christmas really is for those who hate it most.