Christmas, for all its wonder, festivities and delight, can also bring many stressors. That first Christmas was no different. Despite our impression of a perfect manger scene where all is peaceful and bright, the journey to get there and the circumstances afterward were filled with difficulties. Mary and Joseph must have been disappointed that their plans for a marriage surrounded by family, friends and joy was turned into an embarrassing scandal as they were thrown into a situation that no one understood and where they were totally alone. The stress mounted as Caesar called for a census and Joseph was forced to return to his hometown. Mary, who was nearing time for delivery, had to endure a long and difficult journey. Mary and Joseph were poor and found no place to stay upon their arrival. The birth of their child brought some unorthodox visitors: Shepherds, who were among the lowest and most despised in society came to see the baby. Wise men, magi from the East, followed a star to find the child. These men were not Israelites. Everything about them was truly foreign…their language, customs, beliefs, faith. They were astrologists, and astrology was forbidden in Israel. When paranoid Herod heard of the birth of a king, he feared for his throne. So, he demanded the execution of all baby boys under the age of 2 years. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt for their child’s protection. What a messy bunch of characters and circumstances! Yet, in the midst of all the chaos, the promised Savior, the Messiah arrived! The joy of the ages! And he proclaimed, “O Come All Ye,” no matter who you are, what you’ve done, where you’re from, you are welcome!

Scriptures – Mt. 1:18-19, 2:13; Lk 1:19-20, 2:34-35; Jn 1:14; Ep 4:15

Verse – This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Mt 1:18-19)

Thought
The people who gather around your table during the Christmas season, at the holiday party you attend, at your family event, and at your work celebration are often different and difficult people. They may be stressed, lonely, paranoid, or strange, and they bring with them a plethora of emotional and social complications. There’s the loud mouth, the unfiltered commentator, the judge and jury, the know-it-all, and the downer who sees no good in anything! Maybe you are stressed out just thinking about how you will avoid someone or several someones that you will encounter during the holidays. Why not take a different perspective? Consider the gifts you can bring to the table, party, gathering. Jesus came to bring grace. Grace is unmerited favor. It’s kindness and acceptance that is not deserved. God extended grace to us through Jesus, and as Christians we are called to bring grace into the lives of those around us. We can also bring truth to the table. Our witness for Jesus Christ may speak the truth of the gospel into someone’s life. Also, our willingness to speak the truth in love to someone who needs to find their way might make all the difference. In addition, you have the gift of love to share. There is no greater gift than to feel truly loved and accepted by another person. Look at your upcoming holiday celebrations and events as opportunities for giving the gifts that God has called you to give. Bring grace, truth and love to the table. You will bless others and also be blessed!

Questions
Do you look forward to the Christmas season in general? Why or why not? What is your most memorable Christmas? What difficult situation has ended up being one of joy in your life? What is your greatest stressor during the Christmas season? Is there an event or gathering that you dread? If so, why? Is there someone you dread having to spend time with during the holidays? If so, why? How can you reach out to that difficult person this year? What gifts do you bring? Who do you most enjoy being around during the holidays? Why? What gifts do they bring?

Response
Write a prayer of thankfulness for God’s blessings. Make a list of people that you will encounter during the next few weeks who are difficult or different. Think of ways you can reach out and be a blessing by extending grace, truth and love.

Prayer
Father, thank you for the truth of your word, for the grace you offered through Jesus and for your never ending and unfailing love. Help me in this Christmas season to extend your grace, truth and love to those around me, and especially to those people that I find to be difficult and different. Let your love flow through me. In Jesus Name I pray, amen.