“Now the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, took place in this way….” (Matthew 1:18) S0 begins the biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus in the first book of the New Testament. It is a narrative on two levels. First of all, for those immediately concerned, it is a time of incredible stress. Joseph and Mary are not married but Mary is pregnant; Joseph is anguished about what to do, about what people will think and say, about what is the honorable thing to do for Mary whom he loves and for himself. Mary is very young, not ready for this, and she takes a trip to seek succor from her relative, Elizabeth. By the time the pregnancy is far advanced, Joseph and Mary must take a long, arduous donkey ride to Bethlehem merely to register for a census. Talk about mounting pressure, things happening at the least opportune times, the uncertainty of the future being terrifying---all this is just that. This first level is about human suffering.
But the second level is about God and God’s purposes. In it is the news that God cares for Joseph and Mary and reassures them; about God caring for the whole human family, about God having purposes transcending our daily ups and downs.
And Joseph and Mary, being persons of faith, found in God’s promises and assurances, the strength to make decisions and go on.
This is about the time in the Christmas season when most of us get to feeling overwhelmed---making plans for the holidays, doing chores that seem to have to be done to prepare for it, addressing cards, wrapping gifts, baking, and maybe being confronted by the unexpected such as illness, bad weather, un-forseen demands.
That level of things can get to us; it has been known to overwhelm in some cases. And it’s not particularly because we take them too seriously, but because they are all things in which our love for family and friends and others is involved, and doing them means so much to us. But if our hearts and minds are set on God, we can keep our perspective. The heart of Christmas isn’t that God will keep us from overwhelming pressure, but that God loves us through that pressure and in the end, God sent the Son to save us. That can keep us steady, even as it did Joseph and Mary.