Sometimes it’s hard to be a Christian at Christmas. Okay, it’s not that hard. After all, we do it every year. Still, it seems harder than it ought to be. Why does a holiday that is supposed to put the focus on faith often seem tinged with doubt? Why does a celebration of peace on earth seem to bring with it so much anxiety and fear? How can we somehow simultaneously worry both that Christmas has become overblown and that it is being canceled? Where are you, Christmas? Why can’t I find you?

I once heard a psychologist lecture on how avoidance increases anxiety. This happened to a friend. She began to refuse to go on trips that involved an expressway. The more she avoided getting out and about, the more restrictions accumulated. Eventually, she did not want to leave the house at all. Avoidance doesn’t work; it is time to face our ambient anxieties about Christmas. When we look them straight in the eye, they turn out not to be as frightening as we thought. There is a kind twinkle in that eye.

Let’s begin with doubt. There are a lot of improbable things in the Nativity story: the star, the angels, the Magi, and of course, the Virgin Birth. If you have never doubted the Virgin Birth, then you have probably never really thought about it.

And it’s not a bad thing to really think about it. The Virgin Birth is meant to make you wonder. It is a deliberate, divine provocation. Like the burning bush, it is intended to draw you in because you cannot resist engaging with it, even if your first response is doubt.

There’s a scriptural parallel to Mary’s conception of Jesus in Hannah’s conception of Samuel (1 Sam. 1). The high priest Eli is a busy man who is not easily distracted from his ...

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