An overlooked prophecy points to the family togetherness we crave at Christmas.
We tell two stories around Christmas. One is Christian, while the other is mostly sentimental.
The first story begins (at least in the Gospel of Luke) with an elderly priest named Zechariah serving faithfully at the temple. Luke tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth, his wife, both loved the Lord and likely harbored some hope for Israel to be freed from Roman oppression. The angel Gabriel gives life to their hope by announcing that this barren couple would have a son who would herald the coming Messiah.
From there, the story moves to a young woman in Nazareth named Mary. The wonder of her pregnancy would surpass that of Elizabeth. Instead of being barren, Mary is a virgin. Instead of preparing the way for the king, her child would be the King himself, created within her womb by the power of the Spirit, God come to dwell among us.
We need not rehearse all that follows, save to say that shepherds and angels show up in abundance. The Lord of the universe enters the world through a virgin and spends his first night well loved in a humble manger. This is our Christmas story, rightly celebrated as the beginning of a new era in human history.
The other story that dominates the Christmas cards, songs, and movies we’ve come to love centers around a different kind of family. This is the all-American nuclear family, gathered around the tree in matching pajamas and exchanging presents as Nat King Cole croons in the background. Our image of family at Christmas—well-decorated, wealthy, happy, and intact—actually sits uneasily beside the gospel of the first.
I have no problem with churches that laud family togetherness during the holidays. Nonetheless, for children without a mother or a father, it can feel like a second Christmas …