Crisp air, warm knitwear and the prospect of a warm mug cradled in hands after walking down the road admiring the twinkling lights. Colour and sparkles adorn the surroundings whilst Christmas trees wink from their window perches, spreading cheer to the neighbourhood.
All around there are signs and clues to what is coming- the fairy lights, the music, Christmas treats in the shops and the smell of mulled wine and hot chocolate. My favourite thing about Christmas is the anticipation and the atmosphere. Not the food or the trimmings or even the family time, lovely though they all are. But the waiting, the preparation, the time before is the sweetest for me. There is great potential and great hope for what is coming, despite the pressure for a perfect, idealised Christmas Day which we are all tempted to seek.
Everything is expectant- some are expectant for the presents, time with family, the time off work, the food. We prepare for all of these things, and Mary and Joseph would too have been preparing themselves for the arrival of a baby. In that waiting time, a time of wonder and hope. I can’t imagine how that special time was different for Mary, having not only the mixture of emotions that comes from carrying your own firstborn but also knowing that he was God’s own son, his plan for rescuing his people. I wonder if she was anywhere near mentally prepared to meet the saviour, embodied in a tiny baby whose life she had been nurturing inside her for months. The more I think about it the more mind blowing it is that God chose to come and walk among us. Without beams of light, a booming voice or leaning down from a cloud, without intimidation or fire or anything which modern society might like us to think. No, he came through a young, newlywed Mary- who was surely both terrified and excited as I think all first time mothers are, or she had the peace of God protecting her from fearing the responsibility in her hands.
Our littlest Amelia was born eight weeks ago, and having a newborn in the run up to Christmas means I really remember what it was like, what it must have been like for Mary. Having that huge tummy, feeling the baby stretch and kick inside, longing to meet them and hold that little body next to you, as I am doing now. It’s a mixture of longing and hoping and savouring. Drawing near the birth, I knew that we could plan for things to go a certain way but that ultimately it was out of our control. I had to trust God’s provision the way Mary did- only I doubt when the angel came that she expected that nine months later she would be labouring in a stable with the smell of animals all around, after a long journey.
But babies come when they come, and just as God knew that I needed Josh to be here when I went into established labour with Amelia, he knew that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, as had been promised through the Bible and prophecies. Everything was arranged that the scriptures might be fulfilled and that we would all know that this was the saviour who had been talked about from years before. Mary believes Gabriel that what the Lord promises will happen, although I am not sure she expected to give birth where she did. But she has faith in God and ponders on all the events throughout the birth of Jesus. We see her trusting God, waiting to meet Jesus, through a period of expectancy which was unlike any other.
As time flies by and we arrive swiftly at Christmas Day, are we going to trust God that he has not only Christmas under control but also our lives? Are we expecting Jesus or just preparing for disappointment as we try to get everything like the idealised Christmas Day? He didn’t come to live and love and die amongst us so that we could be perfect and have the perfect Christmas. He didn’t come back to life and beat sin and death to help us be better people- he came so that we could stop chasing perfect and instead spend our energy trusting and loving him. We may try, but we can’t do perfect by ourselves as a means of reaching God. That is why he came to do it for us.
And now we can choose to try to do better and never quite make the standard, or accept his grace and enjoy an imperfect Christmas, able to enjoy our relationship with him and truly expect and celebrate Jesus coming. The atmosphere today will be heightened, full of hope and anticipation and joy. I hope it mirrors that first Christmas and Mary’s heightened sense of wonder as God revealed his plans to her as she walked by his steps. Amongst all the preparations let’s remember the heart of Christmas- not the appearances and the externals- but the expectant waiting for a baby who brings life, life more freely than we have ever known.
Further reading- Luke 1-2 for the Christmas story, Romans 3: 20- 26 and Romans 5.