This may sound a bit odd to you, but I think we have made Christmas too beautiful. Most of us, whether we grew up in a Christian home or not, can call to mind Christmas card images of snowy countrysides, horse-drawn sleighs, frosty windows, glowing red candles, happy carolers, and all the rest.
We have romanticized images of softly falling snow and hot cocoa in front of the fire. We have romanticized images of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph looking tranquilly into each other’s faces. We have romanticized the animals in the stable, the adoring shepherds, and the wise men (in coordinating colors, of course) presenting their gifts—all softly illuminated by the ray of a shining star above.
It’s all so cozy and beautiful and sentimental. But the real Christmas night was nothing so charming and serene.
The First Christmas Wasn’t Very Beautiful
Now, don’t get me wrong. What happened on that first Christmas, spiritually speaking, was beautiful, of course. But the reality is that the circumstances surrounding the birth of our Savior were altogether ugly. The real story was raw, and quite sad in some ways. Jesus was born in a filthy stable surrounded by animals. He was wrapped, not in clean sheets, but in cheap rags, with the chill of the night air on His infant face. It was cold and damp. The stall where He was born would have smelled of straw and dust and, quite honestly, animal feces. God incarnate was born on the dirt floor of an unsanitary stable, barn, or cave.
It’s one thing for God Almighty to condescend and become human and to dwell with us on this earth that He created. That, in itself, is hard to fathom. But to come like this? To become completely and utterly dependent on a young mother for nourishment and an inexperienced father for protection? To be so vulnerable and fragile?
God became a little baby. It’s unthinkable.
For me, the ugliness of that first Christmas doesn’t diminish the story. It enhances it. It highlights the great sacrifice Jesus made to come to us. Commentator R. Kent Hughes wrote, “It was clearly a leap down—as if the Son of God rose from his splendor, stood poised at the rim of the universe irradiating light, and dove headlong, speeding through the stars over the Milky Way to earth’s galaxy . . . where He plunged into a huddle of animals. Nothing could be lower.”
God came down to us.
The Invisible became visible.
The Infinite became finite.
The Creator became a creature.
God became a man.
The birth of Jesus is not a rags-to-riches story; it is a riches-to-rags story. Jesus came to earth, giving up everything to save us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NKJV).
Let’s Face It—Our Christmases Can Be Ugly
When we think of Christmas gatherings today, we usually think of getting together with extended family. We have all seen the pictures and the postcards and the TV shows depicting what Christmas should look like—a Norman Rockwell image of smiling faces around the dinner table. But none of us have families that even slightly resemble that. Our family is probably closer to the Simpsons than it is the Cleavers. We’re all dysfunctional.
If you are like me, you have a somewhat messed-up family. Oftentimes during the holidays, we interact with extended family that we haven’t seen for a while. Everybody has that obnoxious uncle, that strange aunt, and that twisted cousin. And we all know that grandpa is getting crazier every year. (Of course, the depressing thing is that I am that grandpa now.)
Think about this for a moment: Jesus came from one of the most messed-up family trees of all time. I am talking about prostitutes, cheats, adulterers, liars, and even a murderer. Jesus knew what it was like to have a family that was far from perfect.
Maybe your parents have divorced and so you have all of the dynamics that go with that arrangement. You have to go and see Mom and her new husband on Christmas Eve and then you have to go and visit Dad and his new girlfriend on Christmas Day, but you have to alternate each year to keep things equal. And then you have all of the distant cousins, and the step-cousins that are now related to you through the new marriages and whatnot. And let’s face it: some of them are pretty weird.
Or maybe you yourself have been divorced recently. Maybe you have lost someone close to you this year and it has added to the sadness of the holiday time. What is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year” is, for many, the most difficult or stressful or depressing time of the year.
The Conflict of Christmas
Instead of looking forward to Christmas, maybe you’re dreading it. You know that Christmas is going to be a time of conflict. But the conflict of the original Christmas was far more severe than what we have to face. The fact of the matter is Satan didn’t want there to be a first Christmas and he did everything in his power to stop Jesus from fulfilling His mission.
You might say the shadow of the cross lay over the beauty of the first Christmas night. When Mary took her little newborn Jesus to be dedicated, there was a man there named Simeon who had a message from the Lord. He said to Mary, “A sword is going to pierce through your own soul” (Luke 2:35). He was saying, “Mary, this is going to be painful, this thing that is going to happen.” Why? Because Jesus came to die a very cruel and horrific death on a Roman cross.
Leaving the glories of Heaven, Jesus came with a purpose. He was born to die.
We don’t want to think about that at Christmastime, do we? We want to think of the sweet Babe in the manger, cooing and dozing peacefully. And it’s fine to think about that, to some degree. But we mustn’t forget why He came. He was born to die, that we might live.
Red is the color of Christmas. It’s not red because Santa wears red. It’s not red because we wrap our packages in red. It’s not red because of Rudolph’s nose, or holly berries, or peppermint candies.
It’s red because of the blood of Jesus that was shed on the cross. The Bible says, “Cursed is every man that hangs on a tree” (Deuteronomy 21:23). Jesus hung on the true Christmas tree—the cross—taking upon Himself the curse that should have been ours.
We make our Christmas trees as beautiful as possible by hanging decorations and ornaments and lights on them. But the only thing that was hung on that first Christmas tree, so to speak, was the mangled, disfigured, bloodied body of Jesus. He hung there for all the sins of humanity and His blood flowed from that place for our sakes.
He gave His very life for us, and His sacrifice is the ultimate Christmas gift, offered to humanity—if they will but receive it.
The novelty of most Christmas gifts wears off pretty quickly. It’s quite likely you can’t even remember what you got last Christmas—it’s already passed from your mind. But God offers you a gift that is so amazing, it will only become greater with the passing of each year. He offers salvation from your sins, and eternal life purchased for you by Jesus at the cross. This gift grows more valuable with the passing of time, because as you get older, you get closer to the day when you’re going to take full possession of this gift of eternal life. God is the Giver of good things—the very best in fact, and He offers us the hope of Heaven. If you haven’t yet received this gift, I encourage you to do so today.
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Learn more about Pastor Greg Laurie.
This article was originally published at Crosswalk.com.