“‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.” Thus begins Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women,” a coming of age story that has delighted generations of readers.
Though we may smile at Jo’s youthful sentiment, it might resonate with many of us more than we care to admit.
This Christmas will be difficult, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us apart, has cost people their livelihoods and their homes and has claimed the lives of loved ones. We will no longer be able to celebrate as we used to.
Perhaps for the first time in many years, we will truly understand the meaning of Christmas: God coming to bring light and life to a world mired in darkness and death.
As we reflect on this beautiful story, I believe we learn three important lessons:
God does the impossible.
Thousands of years ago, a teenage girl named Mary gave birth to a child in a holding pen for animals, with only her husband, Joseph, to attend to her. She wrapped her infant in rags and laid him in a feeding trough. His name was Yeshua — Jesus — the Savior.
That is how God came to dwell with us.
To our finite minds, the incarnation is an impossibility. As Mary asked the angel Gabriel when he told her she would bear God’s Son, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 ESV).
He replied, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
At that moment, Mary had to make a decision. She answered, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38a).
Mary said “yes” to God, leaving Joseph bewildered and contemplating a quiet divorce, as he knew the child could not have been his.
What if Mary had said “no”?
What if Joseph had said “no” when Gabriel later appeared to him in a dream and told him not to fear taking Mary as his wife, confirming that the life in her womb had been conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-25)?
Right now, many of us are facing what feel like impossible situations — nothing, of course, like Mary and Joseph’s. But here we learn a great truth: nothing is impossible with God.
May that be our prayer this season, a declaration of faith when everything else in our lives seems to say that faith is foolish.
God is worthy of our praise.
Other than Mary and Joseph, the first people to laud Jesus’ birth were a bunch of shepherds:
“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:8-12).
After recovering from their shock, they hurried to Bethlehem to worship the tiny Messiah. I can only imagine Mary and Joseph’s surprise when the shepherds showed up, possibly with sheep in tow.
When the shepherds left, they didn’t return to their field right away. Instead, “they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child” (Luke 2:17). They didn’t worry what people thought of them — they praised God publicly and with unabashed joy.
Some years later, when the child Jesus lived in a house with his parents, magi from the East appeared, led by a star for hundreds of miles:
“And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).
While these two groups of people could not have been more different, they had one thing in common: they didn’t let their circumstances keep them from praising God.
When we realize God is the God of the impossible, we can praise him.
God is with us in our suffering.
When Jesus was eight days old, Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem as required by the Law of Moses (Luke 2:22-24). There, a man named Simeon blessed Jesus, declaring he would bring about the salvation of all peoples.
Then, in a direct address to Mary, Simeon said, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
For the first time in the Christmas story, we see a foreshadowing of why Jesus came.
Amidst rejoicing, sorrow is introduced — an intensely painful sorrow that Mary, as a mother, would uniquely experience.
We see the culmination of this prophecy as Jesus hung on the cross while his mother watched.
I will never understand what Mary experienced as she looked on her son’s suffering, but I have a sense of what it’s like to feel a piercing pain: my daughter almost lost her life to COVID-19 this summer.
She had given birth to our precious granddaughter and because her immune system was suppressed, she contracted the virus. She became critically ill and was admitted to the intensive care unit and placed on a ventilator.
As a father, I longed to relieve my daughter’s suffering, but I was helpless. In those moments, I was reminded of the name given to Jesus long before his birth: “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”
That is our hope, now and always.
Christmas will still be Christmas, because it was never about the presents, but about the greatest Present of all: Jesus.
God with us.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, executive producer of “Breakthrough” with 20th Century Fox and author of “From Survive to Thrive: Live a Holy, Healed, Healthy, Happy, Humble, Hungry, and Honoring Life” (Charisma House Publishing), a best-seller on Amazon. CNN and FOX News have called him “the leader of the Hispanic Evangelical movement” and TIME magazine nominated him among the 100 most influential leaders in America.