At its very heart Christmas is an amazing time and one that it is right that we celebrate: the gift of God Himself being born into human time and space, fully God and fully human in order that He might walk our path and identify with us in every way; whilst at the same time avoiding sin, demonstrating what true humanity could look like and signposting the way to God’s Kingdom; before dying on a cross yet defeating death at the resurrection in a precursor of what we may all one day experience through Him. And all of this is certainly something worth celebrating!
Yet at the same time it is only worth celebrating if what we celebrate is what it truly was: and what that first Christmas was was anything but the sanitised, Sunday school or Christmas card version that we are most likely to see at this time of year.
Because for a start – as anyone who has been through or witnessed this incredible event will attest to – birth is bloody, is in a sense undignified (whilst being one of the most natural things ever), and is very often hard work. Added to this fact Mary had just faced an arduous journey, was young, and had no doubt had not the easiest of pregnancies as she considered the potential implications of being left husbandless due to what Joseph might have considered must have been an adulterous affair. So whilst we see sterilised images – of animals and shepherds (I mean how clean can any of this actually be?!) around a baby who is rarely depicted as starting out blue, bloodied or screaming whilst His mother continues into the third stage of labour and the afterbirth – the reality was somewhat different.
But that isn’t where the blood ends. Because in a rarely-spoken-of-at-Christmas episode of the biblical narrative the trauma of the birthing process is well and truly put in its place as the maniacal Herod, having been fooled by the Magi, orders the death of all boys under the age of two. And this week it hit me how we all know that part of the story and yet how rarely, if at all, I have allowed myself to reflect on the absolute horror of it. Because behind the black and white and easy to fast forward over (or conveniently forget/ignore) words in Matthew 2 there is the reality of devastation and bloody murder.
So what is the point of all of this? I suppose I don’t know really: except that it’s a call to engage more deeply and realistically with the Christmas story, and the pain and horror of the glorious incarnation of Jesus. As I’ve said before I’ll say again: I don’t want to prevent or mar celebration of such an incredible event. But I also don’t want – for myself, my family, or the church and people I serve – for us to forget how this celebration truly started; and in remembering to have a deeper encounter with the God at the centre of it all, in Whose footsteps we are called to walk…