Advent is upon us and Christmas is coming. In years past, this has been a time of preparing and rushing about making sure we have everything ready for Christmas. In the church during this time, I am always calling on us to take the time to reflect upon the true meaning of this time of year. I try to remind us that we are to be preparing to receive Jesus again and celebrating the incarnation of our Lord. Also, like everyone else, I am running like crazy to make sure I have presents bought, cards mailed, and parties RSVP’d. This year is different.

With all of the anxiety of 2020, I cannot imagine adding the anxiety of Christmas to that. Nor do I think that that is God’s intent for Christmas. We have lots of wonderful traditions, but somewhere along the way I think we have lost touch with the meaning of those traditions. We will not be able to worship in our usual way this year on Christmas Eve. We are planning something different and you will hear about that in the weeks to come. Most of us will not be able to celebrate with families in the same way as we have in the past.  Preachers are keenly aware of when Christmas is coming. Most start long in advance thinking and praying about it. So I have had lots of time to pray and, I will admit, to lament Christmas 2020. Then something occurred to me. We spend so much time preparing and trying our best to make things perfect that we forget that things were far from perfect on that first Christmas. 

Mary and Joseph were forced to travel to Bethlehem so that Joseph could be counted in a required census. Mary was pregnant. Can you imagine having to tell your spouse, “I know we are having a baby and He is going to be the Messiah, but we have to travel for a census”? I wish I could have been there for that conversation. So here are Mary and Joseph, who already carry the hope of the world on their shoulders, living by faith, trusting each other and trusting God, and traveling while pregnant. I have always been amazed how God chose to bring the Savior into the world as a helpless infant just as we were. He was born to two unlikely parents. One was a young woman who became pregnant by the Holy Spirit before she was officially married and the other was a simple carpenter who chose to honor God and his wouldbe wife by accepting and protecting her from society’s scorn. Then after accepting on faith that what was happening was of God, they are nearing the time of birth, which was a danger in and of itself, and now they discover that there is no room for them to stay in town. So, basically, they bed down in the stables. Jesus is born there. He was laid in a manger, a feeding trough, as a crib. He was wrapped in scraps. Mom, dad, and baby are okay. A miracle has happened. The Savior has come. Shepherds come on the advice of an angel to be witnesses. I cannot help but assume that this was not what Mary and Joseph were planning or anticipating. And yet God was there. This had to have been the greatest night of their lives. All that pressure and anxiety released for a while with the fulfillment of the promise. Their faith has been rewarded and they must have just huddled there in grace together. 

When I think about that night I cannot help but think how unorganized by human hands it all was. I cannot help but think that of all the amazing Christmases I have experienced, none compare to that first one. Christmas is coming again and I think we are experiencing a little of what Mary and Joseph experienced. We are uncertain. We are stressed. We are unprepared. And yet we are offered faith. We are offered faith that again this year we can remember and celebrate the greatest gift ever given. We are offered faith that God, by the power of the Holy Spirit will show up again in our midst. We are offered faith that our Lord, the same person as that little infant, will return to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. 

When I picture Mary and Joseph cuddling beside a manger with the long awaited baby Jesus finally before them I imagine they were cozy and at peace. I love that word cozy. For me it describes those moments of real contentment and real peace together. We may not be able to be together in our usual way this year, but we can be cozy. We can be content and at peace not because I say so, but because God says so.  God is with us. God is with, for, and loves every human being who has ever walked this earth. We may not be able to control every aspect of Christmas this year, but instead God is calling us by faith to embrace the true meaning of Christmas and find hope, love, joy, and peace again. So I wish you and yours a cozy Christmas this year. I wish you and yours the best Christmas we have ever experienced, not because we got the planning right, but because the One with the real plan will make it right.

Wishing you an amazing Advent and a Merry Cozy Christmas, 

Pastor Jimmy Hendricks, pastorjimmy@nolensvilleumc.org