Posted by: Philip Rushton | November 30, 2011

Beyond A Norman Rockwell Christmas: Recovering the good news of the season for the down and out

Norman Rockwell has a whole series of Christmas paintings that capture a nostalgic family feel. He paints pictures of happy families singing carols together, kids opening presents under a perfect Christmas tree, and Santa Claus coming to bring gifts. Rockwell’s paintings seem to capture the ideal that many people have for Christmas. Christmas, as one carol puts it, is supposed to be “the happiest season of all.”

Yet, if you find yourself going through a hard time this Christmas season, these expectations tend to make things worse. It is hard to be going through grief or hardship when the whole world seems to be saying we should be happy. When grief is juxtaposed with the expectation of happiness, it tends to deepen our grief.

The reality, however, is that the original Christmas belonged to those who were dealing with hardship. We have sentimentalized the nativity story, but the reality is that it has a radical message of hope for the poor. The nativity story is about God coming with good news for the down and out.

Mary is not a quiet, peaceful mother that basks in the glow of her newborn son. She is a feisty revolutionary who risks danger and even death to participate in Gods plan to overthrow tyranny and injustice. She sings of God, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53).

The presence of the shepherds in the nativity scene would have been shocking to the ancient reader. Shepherds were low in social standing and were often thought to be thieves who were a drag on society. Yet, they are included for a reason. These outcasts and misfits were at the inauguration of the new king because this new king had come for people just like them!

Indeed, when the nativity story comes to an end and Jesus speaks for the first time he quotes Isaiah 61 saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Here Jesus indicates the purpose of his coming. Jesus came to us in order to bring good news for those who were dealing with hardship.

The Christmas season, then, is certainly a season of hope and joy. It is a season to celebrate. However, we celebrate a different, much deeper sort of joy then our culture has associated with Christmas. Christmas celebrates the type of joy that is found at the intersection of grief and grace. It is the joy that comes when we realize that there is hope even in the midst of the most difficult times. It is a joy that comes when we understand that Jesus is a savior who has come with good news for the poor.

So for those who are struggling this Christmas, don’t let our culture push you to the sidelines of the season. This season is meant for you! Christmas is a season of hope for the down and out.


  1. That was awesome, Phil.

  2. Have been reading your various blogs on the C’mass subject. They are all well written and insightfull. Everyone I know, except a few full full blown pagans ,believe all of this. It is like a game where no one wants to be first, you go first and tell me how it works. Just maybe some of the answer might be in the second part of Advent, the part we are kinda uncomfortable with.The advent of the Kingdom is a comfortable story. Baby Jesus and angels, neat. The second part of the Advent adventure is a little unsettling. King Jesus returns in justice, judgement and rewards and punishments.
    Try putting that on your Christmas card next year. But we need both story lines to make the song/story complete.
    Anyhow, keep our feet to the fire on making Christmas less commercial and all that money you save……send the cash to me in an unmarked envelope and I will send you a genuine white prayer hankie which will bless your soul, trust me.
    ……………………………………en Cristo……………….

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