The Christmas story is full of misunderstandings, full of people who make assumptions and jump to conclusions. Think of Joseph, learning that Mary is pregnant and believing the worst. Think of the wise men, looking for the royal baby in the palace. Think of the shepherds, who hear the angels singing of peace on earth and are, the Bible tells us, terrified. They don't understand what's going on.
And the results of misunderstanding can be devastating. Herod does not understand the nature of Jesus' kingdom, sees it as a threat to his own, and seeks to eradicate the threat in the most horrific way imaginable, killing every child who might possibly be the one the wise men speak of. Joseph is a good man, but his immediate impulse is to send Mary away secretly – a response that sounds cold and heartless to our modern ears, and one that would have left Mary defenceless and despised by a society that could not even begin to understand what had really happened.
Yet into this world of distrust and fear, of all these tragic or near-tragic misunderstandings, comes the deepest understanding of all. In the Incarnation God honours his beautiful, complex creation by becoming a part of it. Not swooping in like a superhero to fix what's broken and leave again, but by starting from the very beginning. He begins as a baby, doing things the hard way, learning to live and love the way that humans do. Emmanuel means God with us, but it's more than a superficial, lip-service, 'with us'; it's a 'with us' that means 'one of us', 'part of us', a serious, committed 'with us'.
Christmas means that God understands what it's like to be human. God knows our secrets and our fears from the inside. God understands our complexities that we struggle to express, the parts of ourselves that we are afraid to look at. Christmas tells us that we are fully understood.