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A couple of years ago I was leading worship in a local senior’s residence. During the service I asked for people’s memories of Christmas. In a bit of sharing, we were reminded that Christmas isn’t always the happiest time of year for everyone. For some people Christmas is a reminder of things from the past that aren’t always a reason to celebrate.

There is so much pressure put on us to make sure we are having fun, that we are ready to celebrate with the rest of the world in the Christmas season. The reality is, it’s not easy for everyone.

If we look at the first Christmas and the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, I’m not sure it was entirely a joyous event. Mary, an unmarried virgin, is pregnant? The man she is to marry must have some serious doubts about what is going on. He may have been comforted a bit with the visits of the angel, but would that be enough? Not only that, but the public reaction to her unwed pregnancy would have been scandalous. How could other people understand Mary and Joseph were chosen to be special parents by God Himself? What a rough time it would have been for this couple over those few months when the pregnancy would be impossible to hide. Add onto this the need to travel to Bethlehem for the census, just before the expected due date. Two young, nervous parents, forced to leave their hometown just so they can be counted by the government.

As a parent, I remember the anxiety, the nervousness I felt over those last few weeks as my children were about to be born. I remember being in the hospital hoping and praying that the delivery would go smoothly and I would soon be holding a healthy child in my arms. I had the benefit of standing in a hospital room, my wife surrounded by doctors, nurses and machines watching the health of both mother and child. If there was a problem, experts were just down the hall. Even with all the technology and expertise we have today, I was still nervous.

Now picture a young couple, far from their home and they can’t even find a comfortable place to spend the night. They end up in a stable, surrounded by livestock and the lovely smells they bring. And it’s in this place where Mary goes into labour and delivers a child.

This is the point for me where I was able to relax. Once I saw my child for the first time, the worries washed away and joy filled me. The nurses and doctors left the room and it was just the three of us left in the silence and I held my child for the first time. I held this special, precious gift in my arms and thanked God for this life and asked for help in being a good parent. The celebration could finally begin.

That’s what happens in the story of Jesus’ birth. Once he is born the celebration begins. There’s no more worry, no more fear, the child has arrived. Like many parents the calls begin to go out, and in this case God sends his messengers, the angels, to share the good news.

Christmas is not a time for the kind of celebration we are accustomed to today. It is not about what we’ve known it to become, a celebration of spending ourselves into debt in hopes of making it special for someone else.

Christmas is a celebration, but in a different way. Christmas is a celebration of a gift from God. A child laid in a manger in a quiet countryside village. A child sent to save the world.

That is what we need to celebrate.

And it’s ok to feel a bit down because of the memories we carry with us. But just because the world expects us to behave in a certain way, it doesn’t mean we can’t remember the most precious gift we have ever been given.

We have been given Jesus Christ, the one who came to the world to show us the way back to God in a world, which even then, was far from what God would have it be.

Let us not celebrate what the world celebrates, let us celebrate and worship the true God who came to earth because He loves us more than we will ever know.

God bless you all, and a merry Christmas to each and every one of you.