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A Resource by Mark D. Roberts

Christmas Reflections

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2005 by Mark D. Roberts

Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at . Thank you.

Part 1 Merry Christmas!
Part 2 The Greatest Christmas Present Ever
Part 3 My Strangest Christmas
Part 4 Christmas on Sunday: Some Personal Reflections, Section 1
Part 5 Christmas on Sunday: Some Personal Reflections, Section 2
Part 6 Celebrating Christmas in a Broken World

Merry Christmas!
Posted for December 25, 2005

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

Luke 2:1-16


The Greatest Christmas Present Ever
Part 2 of series: Christmas Reflections
Posted for Monday, December 26, 2005

When you saw my title today's post, I'll bet you thought you thought you knew what I'm going to write about. After all, what preacher doesn't spend time around Christmas talking about how Jesus is the greatest gift of all. This has to be the number #1 topic for Christmas sermons.

But, as it turns out, what got me into this subject wasn't a reflection on how Jesus is the greatest Christmas gift of all. Rather, I was remembering what happened that last time Christmas came on Sunday. It was 1994, eleven years ago. That was a morning I'll never forget, because I witnessed the greatest Christmas present ever. Allow me to explain what I mean.

It all began on November 4, 1994, when my daughter Kara was born. By Christmas she'd be seven weeks old. Back then my church had two Christmas Eve services at IPC, one at 5:00 and one at 7:00. At the 5:00 service we always had a living nativity scene, featuring a family in the church with a small baby. That year our children's director asked Linda and me to be Mary and Joseph, with Kara playing the role of the baby Jesus. Yes, I know, a female Jesus. It was very scandalous.

Linda and I said "yes," though with some trepidation, because Kara had a nasty habit of crying inconsolably every evening at just about 5:00. We had visions of her wailing away while the congregation sang about the little Lord Jesus, "no crying he makes." "Silent Night" wouldn't have worked very well either during Kara's nightly tantrum. But Linda and I were ready. We had a pacifier. We had Mylicon. We were prepared to cuddle with Kara or bounce her or change her or do whatever was required to keep her quiet for one whole, long hour.

When it came time for the Christmas Eve service to begin, Kara was unusually quiet. The minutes ticked by. 5:10 and all was quiet. 5:20 and not a peep. 5:30 and Kara was wide awake, but perfectly peaceful. By the time the service ended, Kara was still happy as a clam. She hadn't let out the tiniest chirp. It was a miracle. No crying she makes, indeed!

What was even more amazing is that, from that night onward, Kara never cried as she had done before, every evening at around 5:00. It was as if playing the role of Jesus changed her forever. Who knows? Maybe it did!

All of that happened on Christmas Eve, 1994. But the greatest gift ever came the next morning. To understand this gift, you have to realize that Kara started smiling at me in mid-December, when she was about five weeks old. These were real smiles, not those newborn "I have gas" winces that parents like to call smiles. She'd look at me and give me an obvious, genuine smile. I loved it.

The problem was that Kara wouldn't smile at Linda. Here was her mother, giving her life to Kara day and night, but Kara would only smile at me. It wasn't fair. And, to tell you the truth, I think it hurt Linda's feelings a bit. No matter what Linda tried -- cooing, smiling, laughing -- Kara would just look back at her mom as if she were bored by the whole thing.

Well, we got up early on Christmas morning 1994, the morning after Kara's miraculous performance as the baby Jesus, so we could do our family celebration before I had to go to church. Linda got Kara out of her cradle, dressed her in a cute little Christmas outfit, and brought her into the family room. She sat Kara on her lap and greeted her: "Merry Christmas, Kara! Merry Christmas!" At this greeting Kara looked at Linda and smiled. It wasn't one of those little smiles I'd been getting. It was a giant, joyous, face-crinkling smile. "She's smiling," Linda shrieked with gladness. I ran over to check it out, and, sure enough, there was the biggest smile I'd ever seen on Kara's face. It was marvelous.

"Go get the camera," Linda ordered, and I went running. I figured the smile would be gone by the time I get back, but it was worth a try. In about 30 seconds I returned, and Kara was still beaming at Linda. So I snapped a picture, and even then the smile kept on going and going.

This was a marvelous, miraculous moment. In my opinion, it was just about the best Christmas present ever. It didn't cost anything. It didn't come wrapped. There wasn't any card. But it gave more joy to my sweet wife than any gift she's ever received. In that moment Linda knew that Kara loved her, that she was special to this little girl. Linda's heart swelled, and so did mine. It was a precious moment.

So what was the greatest Christmas present ever? Well, if you're talking about my family, it would have to be the smile Kara gave to Linda on Sunday, Christmas morning, 1994.

But, okay, okay, I'll have to admit that in the larger scheme of things this wasn't the greatest Christmas gift of all. You were right earlier when you thought I was going to write about Jesus. After all, what could better than God's gift of His Son? That little baby in a manger would grow up to be the Revealer who shows God to us, the Lover who transforms our hearts, the Savior who redeems us from death, and the Lord who reigns over heaven and earth. What God gave on the first Christmas morning can never be surpassed. As you guessed, Jesus is the greatest Christmas gift of all. No question about it.


Today I want to leave you with another idea, however. Even as Kara's smile was the best Christmas present ever for my wife Linda, so you have the chance this day to give precious gifts of love to others. What better time, husbands, to tell your wives how much they mean to you. And what better time, children, to say "I love you" to your mom and dad.

Some of you will find yourselves today with relatives who aren't easy to be with. Most families I know face this sort of thing. In fact, some of you will spend a part of today with people whom you'd otherwise rather not see at all. But it's Christmas, and they're family, so off you go to see the relatives, like it or not.

I would never ask you to be fake, to pretend as if things are great when they're not. But, even if you're in a tough situation with a relative, perhaps today you can find a bit of grace to share. Maybe it will be as simple as a kind compliment: "This table looks wonderful, Alice." Or "I'm really glad you got that new job." Who knows? Perhaps you'll even have the chance to give something even more meaningful.

What I'm asking is that you use this day, not only to think about the greatest gift of all, but also to imitate the greatest gift giver of all. Look around you and see if there are people whom you can love today. Offer words of kindness. Maybe even a word of apology or forgiveness. Look into the eyes of somebody you love, and smile, with your face, with your words, and with your heart. Say "I love you" and mean it. Who knows? Maybe this is the gift somebody in your life needs most of all today.

Merry Christmas!

My Strangest Christmas
Part 3 of series: Christmas Reflections
Posted for Tuesday, December 27, 2005

It all began on Sunday, December 20, 1992, between our two morning worship services at Irvine Presbyterian Church. My wife, Linda, came up to me and said "I think I'm going to have a baby soon." She was very pregnant at the time, but not due for a couple of weeks, so this was a shock. One thing led to another, and before long we found ourselves at Hoag Hospital. After a long but hopeful night, at 7:15 the next morning our son Nathan was born.

Nathan had a bit of jaundice, so we stayed in the hospital for three more nights. Yes, I do mean "we." I slept in the room with Linda and Nathan, on one of the most uncomfortable portable beds ever invented, at the cost of $90 per night, I might add. (After my second almost sleepless night, I discovered that the bed was broken. I brought in my tools the next day and fixed it, which gave me one relatively decent night's sleep. I still wish I'd sent a bill to Hoag!)

Linda and Nathan came home from the hospital on Christmas Eve. Our doctor's instructions for Christmas were VERY clear: "No guests. No visiting. No family. Just lots of rest for mother and baby. You can see your family in a week." Turning to me, he added, "Schalf in himmlisher Ruh! Right?" I was impressed that our Jewish doctor knew the last line of the first verse of "Silent Night," in the original German to boot! "Sleep in heavenly peace" was his wise command.

I preached at our two Christmas Eve services that day. In 1992 we had two identical services, one at 5:30 and one at 7:00. Christmas Eve services for children or midnight communion services were still off in the future. I got home at about 8:30, with nothing to do for the next few days but hang out with my wife and son.

Nathan right after he got home from the hospital on Christmas Eve.

I must admit that, at first, I felt rather sad about the prospect of such a strange Christmas. How could we celebrate Christmas without our families? I had never before been absent from my family celebration on Christmas. Now I'd be missing the fun, the food, and the frenzy of present opening. It just didn't seem right! But doctor's orders were doctor's orders. So Linda, Nathan, and I planned to spend Christmas all by ourselves.

Of course when you have a newborn, even if you're the relatively worthless father, you'd don't exactly get to sleep in heavenly peace. So I was up a few times during the night that Christmas Eve. (Didn't get to see Santa, though.) It felt exceedingly odd not to have to hurry up the next morning, nicely odd, I might add. I had never before experienced a restful Christmas. Now it was happening to me whether I liked it or not. But, honestly, I rather liked it.

Linda and I did exchange gifts on Christmas day. We each got something from Nathan, too, though I have a sneaking suspicion Linda picked out the gift that supposedly came from him. We listened to Christmas music all day. We munched on the leftovers from our church staff party, which we had missed even though it was at our house. Linda was in labor during the party, so I was at the hospital with her. (Note to self: good move. Note to other husbands: always be with wife in labor, not at staff Christmas party.) And that was it. I didn't see a soul other than Linda and Nathan on Christmas day 1992.

What I remember most about that Christmas was how quiet and restful it was, blessedly quiet and restful. We didn't have to rush to be with our families. We didn't have to fight traffic. There was no hustle and bustle of the family gathering. Just lots of quiet, interrupted only by occasional crying from a hungry baby.

A hungry baby. Just like baby Jesus. On my strangest Christmas I had lots of time to think about what it meant for God to have come to earth as a baby. Here was my son, tiny, needy, vulnerable. For the first time it dawned on me what God had surrendered in the Incarnation. The all-powerful God choose to become human, not as an adult with well-developed human abilities, but as a baby, like my son. The unlimited God who holds the whole universe in His hands became tiny, like my son. The One with all resources became needy, like my son. The Lord of lords who commands the armies of heaven became vulnerable, just like my son. The reality on Christmas invaded my heart on that strangest of holy days.

About a week later our families came down to celebrate Christmas with us. There were lots of people and lots of presents and lots of food and lots of excitement. It was wonderful to be able to introduce them to Nathan, and to share with them our joy as parents.

Since 1992 we haven't missed a Christmas with our families. We get together with Linda's family on Christmas Eve (a Swedish custom, and they graciously come down to our home since I've got four church services). We make the trek to Glendale on Christmas day to be with my family. For a few hours in the morning Linda, Nathan, Kara, and I are alone together for our "little family" celebration. For most of Christmas day I sit in a chair with a happy, dazed, sleepy look on my face.

I love getting together with our families. Since 1992 I've never seriously considered doing anything else on Christmas. I don't expect this to change, either. But I look back on my strangest Christmas with a sense of sweet, nostalgic longing. Though I doubt I'll choose to have such a quiet Christmas again, a part of me yearns for the heavenly peace of that day. There was something transcendent about my strangest Christmas, as my beloved traditions fell away and I had time to enjoy the mystery and meaning of the Incarnation.

Christmas on Sunday: Some Personal Reflections, Section 1
Part 4 of series: Christmas Reflections
Posted for Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Christmas Day fell on Sunday this year, as I'm sure you know. This hadn't happened since 1994, eleven years ago. In the next eleven years it will happen twice (in 2011 and 2016).

For folks who celebrate Christmas only as a secular holiday, a Sunday Christmas isn't a big deal, since they probably get Monday off as a compensatory holiday. But for faithful Christians, a Sunday Christmas poses a bit of a conundrum.

Christmas is, after all, the birthday of Jesus, or at least it's the day of the year we have chosen for celebrating His birth. If that were all you knew about Christmas, you'd probably assume that it was a day for Christians to gather for corporate celebration of Christ's birth, much as we gather for Easter. Yet, of course, this assumption misses the mark by a mile, at least among American Protestants. Though we celebrate the birth of Jesus in this season of year, our festivities on Christmas Day are rarely focused on the nativity. Rather, it's a time to gather with family and close friends for gift giving and merry feasting. Most Christian families, including my own, have well-developed traditions on Christmas Day, and these rarely include gathering with other believers for worship. This we do on Christmas Eve, which allows Christmas Day to be primarily a secular and family holiday.
On Christmas afternoon my immediate family joins my extended family and friends for a merry celebration of gift-giving and food. I usually enjoy a nap, if I can find a way to escape from the happy crowd.

But then, every few years, Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. What seems like a happy coincidence turns out, in fact, to be a problem for millions of Christians and for thousands of churches. We face a clash of traditions and priorities. On the one hand, Sunday is a day for worship. And it would seem even more important to worship on the day of Christ's birth, given that worship is for His pleasure and glory. On the other hand, being with family of Christmas morning is a high priority. Fitting in church seems like an easy thing to do, but it may require a significant reordering of beloved traditions.

This year many churches, especially some prominent megachurches like Willow Creek in Illinois, made headlines by canceling church on Christmas Sunday. This stirred up a fair amount of criticism from other Christians, who just couldn't believe that a church would decide not to worship on the Lord's Day, especially when it was a special day in His honor. If failing to worship on Sunday is dishonoring to Christ, failing to worship on the Sunday of His birthday seems like a slap on both sides of His face.

I didn't take a strong public stand in favor of Christmas Sunday worship, though my church did gather for one service on Christmas morning (instead of our usual three). This was in addition to the four services we had on Christmas Eve (instead of our usual one service on Saturday evening). Though I believe the Christian tradition of worshiping on Sunday is an important one, I don't believe that Sunday worship is commanded in Scripture so clearly that all Christians must do it. There's no question that we should meet regularly (for example, Hebrews 10:25). But I believe that these meetings can happen on a day other than Sunday (which explains, in part, why we have a Saturday evening service). 

Nevertheless, I felt saddened by the decision of many churches not to gather for worship on Christmas Sunday, even if attendance would be quite a bit lower than normal. (At my church, our attendance on Christmas Sunday was about 40% of a normal Sunday. Of course our attendance over the weekend was more than double our normal weekend.) This seemed to me to make a statement which devalued, not so much the birthday of Jesus as the importance and priority of Christian community.

One church near where I live defended their choice to cancel church on Sunday on the grounds that "Christmas is a family day." I'm assuming, since this is a fine church, that they made a huge effort to guarantee that the single folks in their church had a place to go on Christmas, otherwise their argument would be strikingly unchristian. Yet, even if we grant that "Christmas is a family day," I wonder what this says about the nature of the church as a family. Mightn't one argue that because Christmas is a family day, the body of Christ, the family of Jesus, should be sure to gather?

I expect that it's hard for very large churches to make this argument effectively, since a gathering of a thousand people or more is scarcely like a family. It's more like a performance than anything else, of necessity. Perhaps the megachurches would have done better to encourage their members to meet in their small groups or classes on Christmas Day, and to enjoy fellowship and worship in this setting.

I'll continue these personal reflections on Sunday Christmas tomorrow.

Christmas on Sunday: Some Personal Reflections, Section 2
Part 5 of series: Christmas Reflections
Posted for Thursday, December 29, 2005

Yesterday I began writing about the implications of Christmas Day falling on a Sunday. I admitted that this timing throws an ironic wrench into the traditions of many American Christians, for whom Christmas Day is full of personal and family traditions that generally don't include going to church. Yet, whereas many larger churches canceled worship on Christmas Day because "it's a family day," I wondered if perhaps their notion of family needs to be broader, shaped more by Scripture and less by American culture.

Nevertheless, I will freely admit that my first thought when I realized Christmas would fall on a Sunday this year was, "Oh no!" I realize that this isn't very impressive, especially given that I'm a pastor. But I'm telling the truth. My reasons for this negative reaction were pretty selfish. You see, I preach at four services on Christmas Eve, including one that ends early on Christmas morning. A couple of these "sermons" are actually mini-dramas where my children join me. Though I love doing these little plays, they are very challenging, easily twice as stressful as an ordinary sermon. Then, when you throw in a family gathering on Christmas Eve, not to mention other requirements of the night, by 1:00 on Christmas morning I'm about as tired as I ever get. During the average Christmas Day I'm about as energetic as a fruitcake.

Moreover, I love our Christmas morning family traditions, and so do my wife and children. I'm a tradition-lover in general, almost to the point of obsession. Every single Christmas morning I play the same CDs in just about the same order. The timing of family activities, present opening, breakfast, etc., is almost set in stone. So plopping down a worship service into the middle of this family drama messes with my brain, as well as my exhausted body. Honestly, leaving home for church on Christmas morning ranks very low on my scale of holiday priorities.

But I am the pastor, so I go to church. To say I go happily wouldn't be true. To say I go resentfully would be too negative. "Resignedly" and "devotedly" are perhaps the best adverbs. Yet when I arrive at church, I can feel my heart begin to change.

Like Scrooge after his haunted night, I see my fellow church members differently on Christmas morning. I'm unusually glad to see them. Our "Merry Christmas" greetings are warm and hearty. I discover that I actually like seeing my brothers and sisters in Christ on Christmas morning. It's almost as if we were a family. Hmmmm.

As our worship service began this year, I was truly glad to be there. Even though I was tired to the bone, somehow it seemed right to be singing beloved carols to Jesus in the context of the family of God. I was deeply grateful that most of my choir showed up to lead in worship. They had been there only ten hours earlier at our midnight communion service. Yet they came back to sing again, and did so beautifully and without grumbling. Junko Cheng, a Christian recording artist and member of our church, sang a wonderful solo version of "The First Noel." My sermon was short and to the point. After the closing benediction, a family from our church played a rousing version of "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen," complete with drums, sax, trumpet, piano, bass, and voice. We ended the service with joyous applause.
Christmas morning at Irvine Presbyterian Church.

As I looked around our sanctuary on Christmas morning, I saw people whom I dearly love, and who have loved me faithfully during my fifteen years as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church. I saw my family, not only my immediate family, the one I'm usually with on Christmas morning, or my extended family, the one I'm with on Christmas afternoon. Rather, I saw my family in Christ, folks with whom I've shared some of the deepest things of life, and with whom I was happy to share this Christmas morning.

As I've reflected on this sweet time of worship and fellowship, I'm saddened that so many American Christians, and so many American churches, seem to miss the family dimension of the Christian life. I'm disheartened that a church can say, "Christmas is a time for family" without even thinking that this might mean it's a time for the family of God to gather. At another time I might take on all of this theologically. It wouldn't be hard to show that it's not only sad, but theologically mistaken. For now, however, I'm not so concerned to show that churches who passed up Christmas worship were sinning so much as that they were missing out on something truly wonderful.

After church on Christmas morning a couple of people said to me, "We should do this every year! Not just when Christmas falls on a Sunday." In my tired stupor I said something like, "We'll see." That wasn't just a brush off, though I must admit to having mixed feelings about Christmas morning worship. A part of me believes it's something all Christians should build into their Christmas rituals. Yet another part of me resists changing my personal and family Christmas traditions. Moreover, given that I'm in four worship services every Christmas Eve, I don't believe the Lord is too disappointed in me for wanting to spend a quiet Christmas morning with my immediate family.

Ah, what I've just said isn't quite accurate. Most of the time I'm in four worship services on Christmas Eve. But next year Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday (as it did in 1995 and 2000). This means that I'll be in seven worship services on Christmas Eve 2006, three in the morning and four in the evening, with three different sermons to boot. No matter how much I love being with the family of God on Christmas, I have a sneaking suspicion that, next year, I'll stick pretty close to my immediate family and my bed on Christmas morning. But, then again, who knows?

Celebrating Christmas in a Broken World
Part 6 of series: Christmas Reflections
Posted for Friday, December 30, 2005

Merry Christmas! This beloved and familiar greeting received more than its fair share of press this year as we found ourselves embroiled in a debate over whether to say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." Yet no matter which expression you choose, both promote certain hopes and expectations for the season. It's to be a time of merriment, of happiness.

And for many this is true. Lights, decorations, parties, carols, gifts, feasts, special worship services . . . all of this and more adds up to joyful celebration.

Yet for others Christmas isn't only a time to be merry. It's also a time of mixed feelings, a season of sadness as well as joy. If, for example, you've recently lost a loved one, you know how the holidays accentuate your longing. Oh, how much you'd love to share Christmas with one who won't be there this year, or any year! Christmas, with all of its happiness, can leave a deep, unfilled pit in your stomach.

My family and I just spent our twentieth Christmas without my dad, who died of cancer in 1986 when he was only 54 years old. The first couple of Christmases without him felt wrong, as if the ghost of emptiness had visited our family and wouldn't go away. But, in time, though we still missed my dad, we learned to celebrate without him.

Yet I still think of him every Christmas, and I miss him more on that day than on almost any other. How I wish he could know my children, and that they could know him! How I wish I could talk with him about the challenges of being a dad! And how I wish I could tell him once more what a great dad he was for me! But these things can't happen, and so my longing goes unfilled. I can still offer prayers of gratitude to the Lord for the gift of my dad. But, somehow, this doesn't full satisfy my heart.

This holiday season seemed to be filled with more sadness and difficulty than many others. I'm glad to say that my family is doing well. But I found myself as a pastor caring for people going through hard times. On December 23rd, for example, I performed two memorial services. Both were for Christians who had lived long, good lives. But, still, two families grieved for their mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. In early December I spent time with dear friends who have deep concerns for their adult children, fearing for their lives as well as their fulfillment.

Then, on a broader scale, I was more aware than usual of the pain in our world. My church sent two men to Pakistan to help with the rebuilding effort there, reminding us in a personal way of the catastrophe there. My friend Mike Hogg, pastor of Canal Street Presbyterian Church, was finally able to move his family home. And his church was just beginning to meet again in their storm and flood ravaged building. Right around Christmas we began to see stories of rebuilding efforts in regions destroyed by the tsunami. Though many of these were hopeful, they also reminded us of how many lives had been lost or broken because of the force of nature.

"And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and hea-ven, and hea-ven, and nature sing." This we intone at Christmas, in the midst of a world where nature sometimes sings, and sometimes demolishes. "Peace on earth, and mercy mild," or so the song goes. But peace often seems very far away in a world fractured by violence, disease, and hunger.

So how can we celebrate Christmas in a broken world?

What we mustn't do is pretend. Christmas is not a time to pretend as if everything's right with the world. This is tempting, but ultimately self-defeating and contrary to the Christian gospel.


Above: The beautiful and peaceful Christmas lights reflecting in one of the lakes in Irvine, where I live.

Below: A picture from Banda Aceh in Indonesia, taken just a year ago after the tsunami destroyed the city and killed thousands of its residents.

So what should we do? Well, for one thing, I'd suggest that we allow Christmas to increase our longing. So many of us live in a stupor, accepting the brokenness of our world as a given, rather than as something in need of divine mending. The Christmas theme of peace on earth should increase our longing for peace on earth. It should augment our dissatisfaction with violence and injustice. It should amplify our hope for the future, even as it motivates us to be peacemakers wherever we can.

Another aspect of celebrating Christmas in a broken world is marveling at the theological reality of birth of Christ. John puts this succinctly in the prologue to his gospel: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). The Word of God, who was with God, and, indeed, who was God (John 1:1), became human in the baby Jesus. Rather than standing back from our broken world, rather than fixing it from a distance, God chose to enter this world as a vulnerable baby. As this baby grew, He would know pain, and grief, and confusion, and loss, and everything else common to human beings (except sin, see Hebrews 4:14). Ultimately He would know the ultimate pain wrought by our sin, as He "became sin" for our sake on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21).

For the one who hurts at Christmas, or at any other time, for that matter, part of the good news is that God has drawn near, and still draws near. Our God is not "watching us from a distance," as the popular song once proclaimed. Rather, God has entered into our reality in Jesus Christ. And this God also is with us (Immanuel!) in our pain and suffering.

As important as this is, it isn't the end of the story. There is also the promise of peace on earth, of the broken world made whole. The time will come when heaven and nature will indeed sing the song they were intended to sing by their Creator. What God did through the Incarnation is the beginning of true peace on earth, even though it's not yet fully here. The brokenness of our world, and, indeed, of our own lives, drives us to the only One who brings wholeness. And this is the One whose humble birth we celebrate at Christmas.