The Christmas story of the baby born in Bethlehem is often demeaned and pushed aside because of misunderstanding. So what if scholars tell us Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 in the year 0, or if we don’t get the gifts we wanted, or our family is scattered and we won’t be able to see them this year, or we don’t receive an unexpected miracle like so many secular Christmas stories insist happen in the “magical” season of Christmas? December 25 is not about those things anyway. Rather, it is about God being with us no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in.
Many people don’t like the Christmas holiday because of a loss they have experienced, or bad memories, or simply the stress our society has put on us to make Christmas “merry.” The key to making Christmas merry is not found in anything we do or say. The key was first revealed to Joseph before Jesus was born and prophesied a long time before the angel appeared to him.
Think of poor Joseph. When Mary told him about the baby, it was not how he imagined he would start his married life. His son was not supposed to be placed in a manger far from home. He wasn’t supposed to flee to Egypt with his wife and child.
As Joseph was thinking about what he should do when he found out Mary was pregnant, an angel appeared to him. Matthew 1:20-23 records the story.
But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘“Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us” (New American Standard Bible).
Notice what the angel did not tell Joseph. Joseph wasn’t told that everything would be alright. Neither was he told to just believe and blessings would flow to him. Rather the angel quoted Isaiah 7:14 to remind Joseph, and us, what Christmas is really about: God with us.
Embracing a Lie
In many ways, modern Christianity has embraced a lie. And the lie is, “Believe in God and everything will be OK.” We know that’s not true because we’ve all experienced our share of disappointments and sorrows. To believe the lie means that if things aren’t going well, it’s because we aren’t praying hard enough, or believing hard enough, or working hard enough, or simply not being very good.
The true test of our faith comes when things aren’t handed to us on a silver platter. It’s not hard to believe in God when things are good—anyone can do that. The real question is do we believe in God when things are not good? What “God with us” means is that he will still be with us when we lose; he will still be with us when we don’t recover from that disease; and he will still be with us even when our world falls apart.
Job appeared to have everything before he lost his home, his children, and his wealth. He suffered with boils and sores. His friends judged him and his wife encouraged him to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9).
Job believed God was with him in spite of what was happening. Job didn’t suffer because he had done something wrong or because God didn’t care. He suffered because life is hard and bad things happen. Instead of blaming God and thinking he is no longer with us, how about reminding ourselves that life is hard but God is still with us? After all, he sent his Son to die for us in spite of our weakness, in spite of our sin, in spite of our struggles. God is with us.
Accepting the Truth
Do you believe that God is with us? It’s easy to say yes when everything is good in your life. However, when trouble and problems and disease and disappointment fill our days, we can feel alone and forgotten by God.
An old poem titled, He Careth, says in part,
What can it mean? Is it ought to him
That the nights are long and the days are dim?
Can he be touched by the griefs I bear,
Which sadden the heart and whiten the hair?
Each child is dear to that heart above;
He fights for me when I can not fight
He comforts me in the gloom of night;
He lifts the burden, for he is strong,
He stills the sigh and awakens the song;
The sorrow that bowed me down he bears,
And loves and pardons because he cares.
That’s what the Christmas story is saying! God is with us. He cares for us and he wants to have a relationship with us.
Years ago, I bought my dad’s 1984 full size conversion van. It was a great vehicle—a dream vehicle—for our family of seven. I kept it until the rust got so bad the side was crumbling and the radio and air conditioner quit working.
When I bought the van, instead of going to a bank and taking out a loan, Dad made arrangements for me to pay him a certain amount each week until I had paid the price he wanted for the van (and his price was well below market value). I thought it was a great deal so I faithfully made a payment every week.
I had almost paid off the debt when I was talking to Mom one day and she said Dad was upset with me. I couldn’t figure out why. I never missed a payment. Mom told me Dad was upset because when I sent him my weekly check, I never wrote a note to go with it or drove over with the check to see him. Dad said he would rather hear about how I was doing than to receive another penny from me.
When God sent his gift of salvation, he didn’t want a check to cover the expenses. We could never pay enough anyway. What he wanted is for us to draw close to him. He wants to be with us. Christmas takes on a new meaning when we understand it is not about what we get but about what we have already received. God is with us.
John D. McArthur, Jr. is the preacher at Sterling Park Christian Church in Sterling, VA.