So much of the traditional Christmas Nativity story is made up. People have taken a few of the Bible facts: “The baby was placed in a manger” and created a whole mythology around them: “Jesus was born in a stable” – even though we know that actually, most houses in Bethlehem at the time had a lower floor where the animals were kept, and Joseph, who was returning to the town where his relatives had originated from, was probably staying with distant relatives, and therefore Mary probably gave birth down on the animal’s floor, because the house was crowded with other returning relatives and the inns were all full. But that doesn’t make for such a pretty Christmas card or school play, does it?
So I was wondering, what other ‘facts’ can we surmise from the few details included in the Bible accounts? Firstly, as Mary and Joseph were ‘betrothed’ not ‘married’, Mary would probably have been an adolescent – maybe 13 years old. Which, as Jesus died when he was 33, meant she was a woman of about 46 when she watched her son die. No idea how you cope with that. And as, at the crucifixion, there is no mention of Joseph, presumably he died when young.
Think about that for a minute. God chose this couple, because they were Godly, good, people. Yet Mary had to watch her son die, and Joseph didn’t make it into old age.
Sometimes the church has a tendency to preach that if we are ‘good’, if we do the right things, then all will be well with us. We like to think that good things happen to good people. But the Bible tells a different story. Sometimes, the very best people are the ones who die of cancer, or lose their children. Because being a Christian, following God, is not about being saved from all that is hard and horrid in this world. Being a Christian is about following a God who loved you enough to become a weak, defenceless baby so that we could know him; it’s about trusting God because he is worth trusting – even if life throws cruel things at us. God is God, and the Bible tells us he is magnificent and powerful, that he made storehouses of snow, and rolls up the skirts of dawn, and created all the wondrous things we see in our world today – but he never promised us a pain-free life. God is worth following, because he is God, even when life is tough.
So, if for you, Christmas is not a time of mindless happiness, if you are carrying a weight around with you, that is okay – because probably Mary and Joseph did too. And like them, we can look at our pain, our sadness, our disappointment, in the knowledge that God never promised life would be easy, but he did promise he would help. He loves us enough to share our pain, and at the end, when everything else in this life has wasted away, there will still be God. Because God is God, and he is worth it.