|Image courtesy of papajia2008 / freedigitalphotos.net|
My family has a Christmas Day tradition—or, perhaps, a habit: we turn on the television and watch A Christmas Story as it plays round-the-clock on TBS.
Several times over, we follow the perils of little Ralphie, as his lifelong destiny hangs on whether or not he gets a Red Rider Range 200 Shot BB gun for Christmas. Even though he nearly shoots his eye out upon receiving it on Christmas morning, he and his BB gun go on to live happily ever after.
If only life were like a Christmas movie, all of our problems were cleared up in 120 minutes or less and we went on to live happily ever after.
This isn’t exactly the kind of ending we get even with the real Christmas Story…
The last ten months have been a whirlwind series of events for Mary and Joseph, to say the least—from the angel’s visit, the immaculate conception, the Bethlehem birth, to the shepherds’ surprise visit… But the whirlwind is far from over…
Forty days after Jesus is born, Mary and Joseph travel to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, according to the Law of Moses. When they arrive, they are met by two octogenarians, one of whom takes the child in his arms and praises God that his eyes have seen God’s salvation. Once again, Mary and Joseph are amazed. But the story does not end with everyone living “happily ever after…” Simeon’s final words are troubling foreshadowing of the rejection and crucifixion Jesus will face.
All told, the life of Jesus’ parents is going to be a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows. They’re not going to get their happily-ever-after anytime soon.
Simeon and Anna, on the other hand, are singing praise to God. Like Sarah and Abraham and so many others before them, God made a promise to them—but they had to wait an excruciatingly long time for that promise to be fulfilled; well into what was extreme old age in their time.
We get all these kinds of experiences in our lives as Christians: times of awe and wonder; times of praising and celebration; times of mystery and confusion; times of uncertainty and fear; times of doubt and disappointment; and times of bitter, long waiting. We don’t ever really arrive at our “happily ever after;” at least not in this lifetime. And that can be enough to derail anyone’s faith.
But let’s not forget the one fundamental truth of Jesus’ birth—he is born Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is born into the suffering, the doubt, the questioning, and all the mess of our human existence. He is born to be our light, shining in the darkness. No matter where life may takes us, his hand will lead us and his love will support us.
Today, God raises up Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna as examples of all that the living Christ has been sent to do in your life. God exercises their faith in the form of devotion. All four of these persons are ordinary people, who nonetheless commune with God daily through worship, through prayer; through fasting; listening to God’s Word and living in obedience. God then works through all the ups and downs, and the bitter-long waiting to form them in a faith through which God will lead them to the fulfillment of God’s promises.
So often in life, it will feel like we’re getting nowhere; just falling deeper and deeper into turmoil and confusion, where we question whether God is truly good. But Jesus is always leading us forward; a light in darkness. Through all the ups and downs and long stretches of waiting, his reign will grow continually. Through it all, the Spirit will be forming you into a faith to see Christ in all the ways he is loving and leading you.
And in three days, when we close the door on this year, without that happily ever after, we can move forward knowing that Jesus will abide faithfully ever-after.
Jesus was born to be the one to whom you will cling in this life, no matter what—because Jesus is always holding on to you.