This time of year is difficult for many people. There is so much oppression, and from many sources. Even churches can contribute to the oppression by adding more expectations to all of the ever present false expectations that are commercially generated. It’s quite easy to be so busy at church that one forgets for Whom these things are supposedly being done. Those who try to buck the system get labeled “Scrooge” and are made to feel it is a crime for having exited the Christmas Autobahn where others are going 100 mph.
This year the expectations of merchants have not been fulfilled because many people who had jobs last year are now unemployed–and some are nearly at the end of their unemployment compensation. Many who are employed have had salaries cut back, and will have no Christmas bonus–and thus the expectations of consumers remain unfulfilled.
Oppression quickly becomes depression. Then, even every small unmet expectation balloons into major disasters. It’s all too easy to withdraw into oneself, and to long to go to bed and stay there until April. Those who throw themselves into the festivities frequently suffer a mammoth crash when they are over.
Things were hectic the year that Jesus was born. Caesar was taxing everyone. It was crowded, noisy, and people were shoving their way through town. Likely enough cursing could be heard over the noise of the animals. The inn was full of travelers, and no one there was giving up his accommodations even for an obviously VERY pregnant woman. She got shifted off to the stable to have her baby. It was not the pristine Little Town of Bethlehem of Christmas carol fame.
If Joseph had been wealthy, he probably could have bribed someone to give up his place to Mary. The couple were at odds with the rest of the travelers because they focused on the baby that was about to enter the world. In that stable, surrounded by the animals, Mary gave birth to the Son of God.
Meanwhile, some other poor, humble people were addressed by angels. The shepherds had no expectations of such glory that night, and were surprised, and frightened. Not so frightened, however, that they did not get the message. They hurried to see the glorious Desire of nations, Who was lying in a manger. They rejoiced, and went to spread the news.
Eight days after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph presented Him at the Temple. Two humble, elderly people were there that morning with few expectations left in life but to see their Messiah. Simeon and Anna, focused on God’s promise of redemption, recognized the infant in Mary’s arms as the Savior of their people.
So many people in Bethlehem that year made choices. Many of them missed the whole thing. They had expectations that precluded attending to the newborn Prince of Peace, though every one of them would have been the better for it if they had.