As I sit here the morning after Christmas and think about all the events of the past week, the one that stands out in my mind is not the Christmas morning gift wrap explosion that happened around the tree, but midnight mass at church. Our priest Ft. Jeff said “Christmas is not only a holiday, but a Holy Day.” As I pondered what he said I came to realize that we as Christians hold the crucifixion of Christ as paramount to our forgiveness by God, but what we miss is that the birth of Christ was just as tragic and painful. I am not talking about the obvious that He had to be born to die. Our Father God chose to impregnate a young girl to send His son here to suffer for us. The suffering began before he was born. We all know the warm fuzzy Nativity story with lowing cows, gifts and singing angels, but what about the other side of the story? The painful and terrified side?
Mary was probably 13 years old or so and unmarried. If she had not been protected by God she would have been stoned to death as other adulterous women had been stones in the village of Nazareth. She was engaged and in that culture that was the same as being married. Even without that for a young girl to be pregnant was a death sentence unless she had a husband to claim it. Which Joseph did not at first. Was Mary suffering for Christ even at that point of the story? Yes, she had to tell her mother, father and future husband that she was pregnant and God did it. No wonder the girl left town to visit her cousin Elizabeth. While she was gone, Joseph suffered agonizing ridicule and it kept him up at night. He tossed and turned at the fact his sweet young bride was knocked up. The angel Gabriel visited him in a dream and told him to relax Mary is telling the truth. Mary and Joseph were terrified at the prospect of Mary’s pregnacy and yet, they followed God’s will. Mary very well could have said No to God, but she didn’t. Joseph could have said no to Mary’s father. He could have told him to keep his daughter, but he didn’t. Then the suffering got worse.
The couple went from Nazareth to Bethlehem, about a hundred miles on a donkey…. on a donkey. Not only was Mary in physical pain and Joseph’s feet raw from the walking, there where other dangers on the road, bandits to steal what they had, men who took women as slaves and other untold bad things. Yet, God protected them from that, but not the suffering of the journey. It was long and hard. Mary pregnant and riding on a donkey. Her back must have hurt, her feet must have swelled and she must have been sleep deprived.
Jesus was born in a manger the story says…a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes was laying in the manger. A manger is a wood box for feeding animals. A smelly box with animal slobber and bugs. Where did Mary get the swaddling cloth? Mary probably ripped her own clothing, wrapped Him up and layed Him in the manger on the cleanest hay she could find. Itchy scratchy bug filled hay. No bassinet with a musical mobile spinning about his head. How many of us would ride on a donkey for a hundred miles, give birth in a barn and put our newborn in a hay box? That is suffering.
Did the suffering for our sin start at the arrest of Jesus? No it started the moment that God put the plan in motion. The Nativity story is a story of a miraculous birth of out Savior and the suffering of our Savior. From the moment of conception the suffering started. However, to suffer is to be human. He suffered the experienced of human life.
So as you think about Christmas and all the fun things that go with it, remember that it is as Father Jeff said, a Holy day not a holiday. Without Jesus it is just another day to have a party, with Him it is the remembrance of His coming into suffrage for us sinners.