THE COMPLEXITY OF CHRISTMAS
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Approaching the Christmas season in 1972, Fred Putman decided to have a evening in front of a cozy fire. He used two boxes of matches, one pint of started fluid, and the Sunday addition of the New York Times, and still could not get the fireplace burning. Bent on romance by fire-light, he decided to drive to the Hideaway Lodge in the nearby mountains. As they approached this fireplace equipped paradise, he through his lit cigarette out the car window and started a forest fire. It devastated 382 acres of timber, and burned the Hideaway Lodge to cinders. Thus he demonstrated one of the finer points of Murphy's Law, which is, if several things can go wrong the one that will go wrong is the one that will do the most damage.
I am sure that Joseph and Mary felt their lives were being controlled at times by Murphy's Law. They had a series of things go wrong and it seemed like there was no end to their bad luck. First of all, Mary was pregnant out of wedlock. Today this is still high on the stress list, but back then it was high on the death list. You could be stoned for this back then.
The Angel of the Lord helped them get through this crisis, but then they got hit with government red tape and had to go to Bethlehem just as Mary was due to deliver her child. But this was not the last straw. When they got there the town was so crowded there was no room in the inn. Joseph didn't burn it down, but the end result was the same. They had no place to stay, and were forced to camp out with the animals in a stable.
Life had dealt them with one major inconvenience after another, and they must have wondered if God had made another deal with Satan, like the one he made concerning Job. They must have felt like they were on Lucifer lane. This would be an especially tempting conclusion when they heard Herod was out to kill their baby, and they had to flee to Egypt to save him.
When the Savior of the world has to be saved, and his parents have to be uprooted and live like exiled criminals, then you begin to see what Murphy's Law is all about. It is about a fallen world where nothing is guaranteed to go smooth. Even the plan of God to save the world has to work it's way through the maze where Murphy's Law can strike at any time. If you long for a trouble free life, you are in the wrong world-that is the next time around with a new heaven and a new earth. But the only way to get to that one is to get through this one. Even God's own Son could not escape the reality of a fallen world.
The point is, nobody is picking on you when-
1. Your leak proof seals leak.
2. You need tools to get a child proof cap off your medicine bottle.
3. The day after your warranty runs out, your appliance ceases to work.
4. The tool you drop while working on your car rolls under the car to the exact center.
5. The repairman will never have seen a model quite like yours before.
6. If you keep something because you may need it, you never need it.
7. If you throw it away you will soon need it.
8. Your best made Christmas plans can fall apart and your dream gift become a nightmare.
The bright and shiny and fully assembled toy you see on display in the store is an illusion. What you actually buy is a box of parts, some of which are already pre-broken. Tom Mullen, in his book Birthdays, Holidays And Other Disasters, gives us one man's perspective on Christmas toys-
The box will come equipped with a complete set of direc-
tions so simple that any Ph.D. from the Massachusetts In-
stitute of Technology could follow them in a year-if he had
a crew of men to help and a psychiatrist standing by.
In short, for those gifted few who, as the saying goes, are
"handy about the house," putting things together under
the pressure of Christmas expectation is less than a
traumatic experience. To many of us, however, who cannot
hang pictures straight or dismantle an electric razor for
cleaning,the entire situation breeds inferiority feelings
that make Charlie Brown seem like an egomaniac.
Thus, our children feel neglected because they have a
wagon which has one wheel that refuses to turn. We broil
our hamburgers on a grill so wobbly that burning coals roll
from side to side. Our sons end up playing with dolls
because the jungle gym we purchased is lopsided,
undoubtedly due to the fact that we used a hammer to pound
the "short uprights" over the "long uprights" when,
according to the directions, one was to "slip easily over
He goes on to deal with batteries not included, toys that won't work, stores that are closed and other tales of woe that are nearly endless. The measure of misery around a Merry Christmas because of things that go wrong is vast. The more complex our world gets the more things there are to go wrong. The complexity of Christmas is the result of the complexity of life. It is not just Christmas, but all of life that is complex.
Joseph and Mary had a lot of complexity surrounding the birth of Jesus. They had to flee to Egypt for several years. How they paid their taxes is beyond me. How they left a forwarding address which Herod could not trace is beyond me. Maybe they didn't pay their taxes and had an awful debt when they returned. Nobody knows about the hardships and burdens they carried. All we know for sure is life was hard for them. They were exiled and away from all their family and friends. The first birthday of Jesus was in Egypt with none of their family to celebrate with them. They were not at home for Christmas which has become a major objective in our culture. One of the secular songs popular at this season says,
Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays,
For no matter how far away you roam,
If you want to be happy in a million ways,
For the holidays you can't beat home sweet home.
The paradox is that the birth of the one who made this universal family tradition so precious was born away from home, and His birth forced His parents to be away from home for several years. We often see the first Christmas though rose colored glasses tinted by centuries of tradition. But the plain facts are that Mary and Joseph had a very difficult time with all the events surrounding that first Christmas. The goal of all this complexity is to make it possible for all men to get home to God where they can dwell forever in the Father's house. But meanwhile, to get to that end, everyone involved had to leave home.
1. Jesus had to leave His Father's throne and kingly crown. He did not get back home for 33 years.
2. Joseph and Mary left Nazareth and did not get back for several years.
3. The wise men left home in response to the star and did not get back for many months.
Their was complexity in many lives that first Christmas, but lets focus in on that which Mary had to endure. First lets just note-
I. HER COMPLEXITY
When the angel Gabriel came to her it says in verse 29 that she was greatly troubled. This is the only place this Greek word is used in the New Testament. It means to trouble thoroughly. Many people are troubled, but only Mary is said to be troubled from her head to her toes. The angel responded to her by telling her not to be afraid for she had found favor with God. He knew she would be afraid, and needed assurance that he was there with good news.
When he told her she was to have a child she was confused and asked how it was possible since she was a virgin. He assured her that nothing was impossible with God and that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit. He surprised her with the news that Elizabeth was also having a child. God was breaking into history by means of the two most unlikely women. One was beyond child-bearing years, and the other was not yet ready to bear a child. God chose the too old and the too young to change history. God loves the challenge of complexity, and will use people for his purpose that nobody else would choose. Everyone is a potential tool in God's plan. It was complex for Mary but we see next
II. HER CONFORMITY.
Mary responded to a very complex situation with a spirit of submission. She did not demand a detailed theological or medical explanation of just how an old lady and a virgin were going to have children. She dealt with complexity by acknowledging that all things are possible with God, and she just put herself in His hands. Her willingness to, by simple faith, conform to God's will is, no doubt, why she was chosen by God to be the mother of His Son
None would dare to criticize Mary if she would have shed tears of fear and frustration. If she would have said to Joseph, " I don't know how much more of this I can take! Now we have to flee to Egypt to save our child and not be able to take him back to our families. Our life is uprooted and chaotic and I am a nervous wreck." If she ever felt that way it would be understandable, but we have no record of any such negative emotions. All that is recorded of Mary shows only her noble spirit of conformity to the will of God. She said only, "May it be to me as you have said."
A Christian traveling by plane told of taking off in the rain. It was dark and dreary, but as the plane climbed it broke through the clouds and into the dazzling light of the sun. One of the passengers said, "I suppose every day is a sunny day if we can only get enough altitude." Mary was able to do this, and rise above the complexity of her situation and conform to the will of God knowing that He would accomplish His purpose if she would just conform and obey.
Then, we see another way she coped with the complexity. Let's consider-
III. HER COMMUNITY.
Mary did not bear the burden alone, but she hurried off to Elizabeth where she had a trusted person to share with who was also a part of God's plan. God does not expect us to be loners in the complex issues of life. Even the Lone Ranger had his Tonto, and Robinson Crusoe had his Friday. God expects everyone to have a community of at least one person to share with. God Himself is a community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is the essence of His nature to be a community of communicating Persons. God is never alone for He is by definition a community. We are Godlike when we have another person we can share with as we deal with life's complexities.
Even in the Trappist Monastery, where they are not allowed to talk, there is an exception on Christmas. They can talk all day that day for this is a day of communication, and for the building up of community. There is a need for community all the time for most people, for in this fallen world we tend to feel lonely and insecure. Christmas often magnifies this insecurity for many. Ben Kenshaw wrote in his book, Plain Bread, about his insecurity. He wrote,
I can remember going to bed and lying there with my eyes wide
open for what seemed like hours. I was actually afraid to go
to sleep for fear I might die before Christmas morning came.
"Now you just watch," I said to myself. "You just watch me
die tonight. All those good things are going to happen tomorrow
on Christmas and I'll die and miss everything."
I didn't, of course, and it turned out to be a very good Christmas.
But the struggle between feelings of security and a developing
inferiority complex were all underway. The sense of stress and
turmoil had been planted by some alien hand. As they grew, they
struggled constantly to crowd out the warmth and love so often
demonstrated by my mom and dad. Looking back, I have no
doubt whatsoever that they loved me, and I can only remember
one argument between the two of them. Yet, being a human in a
fallen world, I had a hard time holding onto the feeling of being loved.
His testimony must reflect the feelings of millions of children. We need constant reassurance that we are loved by God and by others and that we are an accepted part of the community. We are broken to some degree, and are like the world of toys, and we do not function the way we ought to. We need community to function at our best.
You will notice that Mary did not sing her song of praise alone, but rather, when she was with Elizabeth. In fact, all of the Christmas songs of the N.T. were sung in community. The angels sang in the presence of one another and the shepherds. The song of Zechariah was a public praise before his neighbors. And Mary and Elizabeth both were filled with the spirit of praise in the company of each other. Even John the Baptist, as a fetus, leaped for joy in his mother's womb in the presence of Jesus in his mother's womb. Singing and praise is a community experience usually. It is in the fellowship of the body that we most often feel like singing the praises of God. This is effective in helping us cope with the complexities of Christmas and all of life.
Christians, be joyful, and praise your salvation,
Sing for today your Redeemer is born.
Cease to be fearful, forget lamentation,
Haste with thanksgiving to greet this glad morn!
Come, let us worship, and fall down before Him,
Let us with voices united adore Him.
Mary coped successfully with the complexity of that first Christmas by means of conformity to heaven and community on earth. May God help us to do likewise as we approach Christmas. The complexity of life and Christmas is offset by the simplicity of God's plan of salvation. By simply trusting Jesus as Savior we can have eternal life and enjoy forever being in the family of God. Take God's simple offer of life in Jesus, and escape all the long range effects of the complexity of Christmas.