Wide-eyed wonder. Snow-covered trees. Bow-draped packages.
It’s the quintessential picture of Christmas portrayed in commercials and on cards. But as adults we know the season is seldom so simplistic.
The first Christmas certainly wasn’t. It was marked by surprises—but not necessarily the kind most of us would choose on our own.
Mary’s life was interrupted by an angelic visitor, proclaiming news that would forever change the course of her life and her position in history. Joseph found out his fiancé was expecting a child that wasn’t his own, only to be visited by an angel in a dream who explained everything and told him to move forward with their marriage.
A cruel dictator disrupted the world with his census, forcing Joseph and Mary to trek 90 miles to Bethlehem with a baby due any day.
They welcomed the child—the Savior they and all the faithful had anticipated for hundreds of years—in a dirty stable. Soon after giving birth shepherds arrived to visit their newborn, telling them about their own visit from heavenly hosts.
Two prophets spoke over Jesus when he was just eight days old, foretelling the sorrow and hope his parents would experience. Three gentile kings visited the boy, presenting gifts more lavish than anything Mary and Joseph had ever seen. Just when life seemed to be quieting down, Jesus’ parents were forced to flee to Egypt, living as refugees, in order to keep him safe from Herod’s genocide.
In the first few years of Jesus’ life, Mary and Joseph witnessed more surprises than any other couple in history. The events that unfolded before them were beautiful and confusing, inspiring and tragic.
They struggled to take it all in. But despite the chaos and confusion that often surrounded their small family, they welcomed the surprises and believed God had a plan.
The first Christmas—and all the ones thereafter—was as colorful as any bow-draped package or light-filled tree. It was filled with wonder but also sorrow and pain.
As much as we like simplistic scenes at Christmas, life is seldom so innocent. Plans change. Dreams crumble. Losses leave us grieving. And in the midst of it all, we’re surprised by God’s direction, kindness, and provision.
Maybe you can relate this year. Your life has been interrupted more times than you can count. But if you look closely, you can find joy-flecked sorrow, peace-filled disruption, and provision-laced loss.
In the midst of so many surprises, we face a choice. We can let our lives fracture under the anxiety and disappointment. Or like Mary and Joseph, we can choose to trust.
We don’t know what joy or grief may greet us tomorrow. But we know the one who does. We can be confident that the God who led Mary to Bethlehem, Egypt, and eventually a cruel cross, will do the same for us.
This Christmas let’s trust the God who works every interruption, sorrow, and expectation together for good. After all he is—and he gives—the very best gifts.