To say it’s been a strange year is to barely acknowledge the reality of 2020. Thinking back to last Christmas, the only word I can use to describe it is normal. And I’m not even sure how normal it felt at the time. But looking back, I can’t help but long for the normalcy of 2019 and hope for its return a year from now.
But the Lord who is sovereign over history has all of us here in this moment. And even in the midst of what has been, for so many us, a truly awful year, I think there is something important we can see a little bit better from where we are right now.
I can’t explain the pandemic or the greater lessons from a year of plague. But as I sit here, in the final hours before Christmas Day, all I can think of is how shockingly abnormal that first Christmas was all of those years ago.
Think back with me for a minute.
Mary and Joseph were seemingly normal people. And months of lead up (with visitations of angels, a truly miraculous pregnancy, endless shame and intrigue) found them finally making a journey to Bethlehem.
What was it like for this young couple as they sought out that shelter? After all, they not only needed a room for the night, but a place to welcome their son. Oh, the emotions they must have felt: fear, anxiety, expectation, joy. It is impossible to imagine standing in their shoes.
That’s because we’ve mostly grown accustomed to the scene of the manger. A mother and father amid stacks of hay and stalls of animals. But if you pause for a moment to consider, probably no one you know has even spent the night in a stable, much less given birth to a child in such a setting.
I can only assume God intended for the king of the world to step into history via the most humble scene imaginable. But I can scarcely fathom a less-expected reality. Departing the throne of the heaven, Jesus was born as a baby in the squalor of a stable. Really? Yes. Really.
And the world was never the same.
There was nothing normal about the first Christmas. The circumstances of our Savior’s arrival was simply the last thing we would anticipate–even if one is particularly good with prophecies. But in the fulness of time, Jesus was born of a virgin, and began his life literally lying among animals in a manger–the most lowly of beginnings.
That was the start of a journey through which Jesus would save the world. The boy born in a stable would conquer sin, hell, and the grave. He would bear the weight of God’s wrath against sin, die a sinner’s defeat on a cross, and then defeat death after lying three days in a tomb (also abnormal and unexpected, even by those he told ahead of time).
This year I miss my normal Christmas. But sitting here I realize that my last Christmas was normal because that first Christmas wasn’t. And as sweet as all of my family traditions are, missing them this Christmas makes me long even more for Jesus’ return.
I miss seeing my family and friends. But already this disruption of the traditions I miss so much has reminded me to focus once again on Jesus. So, maybe this abnormal Christmas can help you anticipate his arrival in a unique and special way. It certainly has for me.