The Trauma of Christmas
Dec 17, 2019
A family, who does not have means or privilege, is forced to welcome a new life in an unsanitary, ill equipped location. A mother and father, who realize the danger of their home country, flee to another country. They leave everything they know in hopes of providing an opportunity for their child in the face of certain death.
This story is not unique. It is a story millions of families have experienced and lived. Yet, there is one instance of this story that is unique, because this is the story at the center of the Christmas season. The story of Christmas is not sparkly and pretty. It is one in which a very real family experienced very real trauma.
In Matthew and Luke, we learn how our Lord and Savior entered the world. Jesus entered the world not as a king but as a member of a family at the margins of society. God chose an unwed, teenage girl with incredible faith to bear the future messiah and a gentle, kind man to act as his earthly father. He chose a family of little means beyond their spiritual lineage. When the day came for Jesus to know the world, his family was turned away from the inn. Mary was left to give birth among the animals and filth as if her family was no better than animals themselves.
Did Mary wonder where was the God who promised this child as she cried out in the hay? Once Jesus was born, how long were they able to celebrate this new life before it was threatened? In Matthew 2:13, an angel appears to Joseph saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
I can only imagine their fear as they departed in the middle of the night to avoid detection. Joseph with the memory of the angel burning vividly in his mind, and Mary, whose body was still broken from the birth of Jesus. Were they confused? Or, were they already aware of what this child would mean to the established order and powers in Israel?
As I meditate on how that experience must have affected the little family, I wonder how they remembered that event for the years to come. Was Joseph gripped with fear as he remembered their desperate migration? Was Mary overcome with grief thinking how the threat of Herod was just the first of many against her beloved son?
The memory of fear is potent. It is not easily forgotten or healed. And yet, like many of the families who face similar situations today, perhaps their fear was muted by the promise of the angel in Luke 1:30-33. The angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom there will be no end.” Maybe this promise of a new kingdom conquered the memory of fear. In this new kingdom they could not be touched by the unjust laws of the land. They were no longer left to dwell among the animals. With Jesus, they were given life and life abundantly.
This is something powerful we can learn from the truth and trauma of Christmas. In Jesus, justice and love came to earth to transform the lives of all. The marginalized who are denied abundant life by the world now receive the hope of a kingdom in which their savior knows the sting of injustice and trauma. They are no longer counted among the animals but counted as sons and daughters of the most high. And for the people who are members of the dominant culture, they are reminded to not cling too tightly to their power, for they just might miss the glory of God. Jesus appeared among the marginalized to bring hope of a new kingdom, and it is our great honor as Christians to remember that purpose and look for ways in our own communities and churches where we can take steps to restore justice and dignity in the name of Jesus. Christmas truly is the celebration that God sees us, hears us, and promises us the hope of abundant life even in the darkest of days.
This article was written by Katie Best-Richmond. She is the communications assistant at Stark College & Seminary.