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One of my favorite Christmas songs is O Holy Night. It’s a beautiful and powerful song, and I wish I had the talent to do it justice when I sing, but I try anyway. The reason I am drawn to that song is because of one line in particular: “a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” In two words that song captures the reality of Christmas unlike any other song – weary world.
Other songs sing of candy canes, and fa-la-la-la-la, and reindeer. We sing “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” whether or not it really feels true, and there is pressure to pretend that our problems don’t exist.
On the other hand, O Holy Night is real because the fact is, our world is weary.
But a baby was born on that night who gives us a reason to rejoice in the face of hardship.
Often, it’s easy for us to embrace a “polished-up” view of the incarnation of Christ. Gift shops and living rooms display beautiful Nativity scenes, and children throughout the world participate in adorable reenactments of the Christmas story. All of this is well and good, but the true beauty of the story really comes to light when we strip away the polish and let reality sink in.
Luke begins his account of the first Christmas with the following words: “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…”
Now in those days – just like today – the world was indeed weary.
In those days life was hard. Death was common. With a high infant mortality rate and low life expectancy of about 30 years, experiencing the loss of loved ones was pretty much a given. There were illnesses and diseases without cures. The threat of famine was real. The rich got richer as corruption ran rampant, taxes were plentiful, and the poor suffered. If debts could not be paid you sold yourself as a servant. Women had little to no rights and could be divorced and cast aside, forced to fend for themselves with no resources or help available. And all of this took place under the oppressive eye of an occupying army; one free to command anyone at any time to stop what they were doing and help a soldier carry his equipment for a mile; one free to brutally execute criminals with little cause.
In those days, a ruler could give the order to execute all male infants in a certain town, and no one would protest.
In those days some waited for a Savior, but many were weary. Many had given up hope, even given up on God. His presence no longer felt and promises long forgotten.
In our day we are tempted to do the same; to allow the pain and suffering of this world to overwhelm us… to give up on God.
But God fulfills His promises, and the fulfillment of His greatest promise is what we celebrate at Christmas. God spoke through one of His prophets, Isaiah, and said that when the Savior comes he will be called Immanuel, which means God with us. God steps into history as a man. Where once only one man could enter into God’s presence, God became one man to be present with everyone. When Matthew writes his account of Christmas, he quotes Isaiah to emphasize that all the events taking place happened so that the prophet’s words could be fulfilled. God is now with us, and for those who are weary, that changes everything.
Of course, there were many different reactions to Immanuel. Some religious leaders believed him; others did not. Some disciples followed him; some abandoned him. Crowds of followers came and went, but the outcasts, the hurting, the afflicted – they kept coming. They had been pushed to the edge of society. No one knew how to meet their needs, so they came – they all came. They lined up to see Him, they squeezed into houses when He was there, they ran to Him as He walked by, they cried out to Him from a distance; and when they came they found comfort, healing, and restoration in Jesus. Immanuel. God with us. No one hurting ever left Jesus feeling disappointed.
God knew what it was like in those days. He knew the suffering and the pain just like God knows what you are feeling in our time. God knows you are weary. He knows that our pain and hurt and our days without hope need something much greater than anything this world can provide.
And so God gives us Himself, God with us.
What we celebrate at Christmas is not that we live in a perfect world; it’s that God is with us in an imperfect and weary world. We celebrate that we are not alone. No matter what we suffered this last year, no matter what we are facing right now, no matter the uncertainty ahead, we celebrate because our God is with us.