Christmas hasn’t always felt this way.
Christmas hasn’t always felt like more than pretty bows and ornaments on a tree. And somehow, a story of a baby and a stable and a really big star seemed to hold it all together like tape on shimmery paper. With all the truth I can muster, I didn’t get it. For years, I wondered how a story of a stable-birth could cause such a ruckus.
But then somewhere, someone with a big voice and a big heart pulled you in close to tell you the real thing. It reminded you of that summer day when your best friend told you, “I’m having a baby,” and your heart split, stopping and soaring at the same time. Not because it was bad, but because you already missed the days of sleepovers and playing Barbies with her. Still, you listened. Though moving fast on the inside, you stood still, oh so still, to hear this story.
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It sounded a lot like a sticky situation. A snowball effect of one bad decision and the innumerable other bad decisions to follow. Ridden with hopeless wondering and nearly-ceaseless waiting, it was the kind of story that left you wide-eyed in a pile of rubbled grace and asking, “well– what now?”
The story made a lot of promises. And I don’t mean small, magnifying glass promises. These were promises proclaimed as we watched burning bushes, and stood under lightning and thunder flashes. The magnitude of these words left us to run to the cleft of the rock and cower down in all the fear and fascination our baby hearts could muster and ask again, “well– what now?”
Above all, we were filled with longing to know this Promise-Maker more. Every time He spoke those words of newness, and blessings, and descendants, and other big things we didn’t quite understand, we knew, “hey, this guy means business,” and our souls yearned to be one of His promises.
But then there was silence. We were left with promises of rising with healing on our wings and leaping as joyfully as little calves, and for 400 years, that sustained us. We wallowed and wrestled and waited, waited, waited.
And then it came. In the most specific, perfectly plotted adventure, it came. He came. Even as we had drifted and wandered and doubted, He clung to those moments He had shared with us so many years ago, and showed up. Seriously, I couldn’t have dreamed up the details because every word this Promise Maker had spoken so many years ago came to life in the most bold, and scandalous of ways. There’s never been a better Promise-Keeper in the history of the world– that I am certain of.
As we thought of the possibility of a God limiting himself to the messiness of a manger, and the helplessness of a baby in order to continue weaving together His promises, we still didn’t get it. Even so, we fell to our knees and repeated, “Oh, glory in the highest– our God has come to save us,” because that pile of rubbled grace we once stood in began to transform directly in front of us.
We realized this was never about what we had done, but we He chose to do for us because at the end of the day, we are trying so hard to get it right and He is longing to get it right for us. He wrapped His golden self into golden paper and handed Himself over. And this time the prize is giving that plastic medal we got for winning the third-grade spelling bee a run for its money.
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“It’s a hard thing when your arms go limp by your side and you realize you can’t win— that’s why the good news of Christmas is this word right here: a Savior is born for you. A Savior is born for you. God understood we were in bad need of being saved. And we can’t save ourselves. We can’t fix it ourselves. We can’t make it better ourselves. And God in His ultimate mercy knew we couldn’t get to Him–
So in His grace and love, He came to us in the most vulnerable form He could: a baby. He didn’t come as a mighty warrior. He did not come on a big stallion with a sword in his hand, because that would make us step back. He did not come as a king, because that would make us bow down. No, He came as a baby so you and me would draw us close.
Babies do that, don’t they? Someone walks in with a baby, and everybody gets up. Oh, let me see, oh this baby is beautiful, oh you wanna talk, you wanna know. So He comes as a baby so you will draw close. And this Savior was born for you.”
I heard that, and the corners of my lips turned up as I thought of the reality of such perfect promises being held together by such a messy, out-of-the-box plan. Choruses of new days, and fulfilled promises, and big, big words filled my head. And at the center stood a God who wanted so badly to love me and know me, He made the story happen by showing up. We dream about someone standing outside our window with a boom box overhead, or seeing him standing in the middle of the crowded airport with a bouquet of flowers, and it’s lovely because in this story, this God came to us with all the blessed treasures we could every pray for.
In the following Kairos’ podcast, the pastor talked a lot about staying where we are. About understanding that when you’re lost, you literally have no clue where you are—no descriptions, no clues, no anything. And in this story, instead of navigating us over a telephone call, “Oh, turn left at that stop light and fork a right there,” He showed up. He came to find us, and somehow, He did. He made a promise to be here, and He came— exactly as He had said, and not a minute later or sooner.
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So I guess what I should have started this post with is, “The end of December hasn’t always felt this way.”
There was a time when I would look at the bareness of the tree and the torn wrapping paper that covered the floor, and the empty plates scattered around the kitchen, and the boxes that held those small ornaments until next year, and I would just slump down. I would feel so incomplete, so bummed out, like it wasn’t okay to celebrate again for another 11 months or so. But these days, I consider it pure joy to share in such sweet moments with the fam and pals, and when it’s time to pack up the leftovers, it’s all right. I don’t know, I guess that somewhere in me has come to see these days as the icing on the cake of a continuous celebration.
Somewhere while chords of O Holy Night resounded and things worth pondering stored themselves in our hearts, something did change. And instead of selling this thing so short, we lived it– with heavy words and big hugs and quiet, quiet peace, we lived it.
And I know it’s cheesy. The churches plaster “Jesus is the reason for the season” and I write things like this, but this season hasn’t always felt like this. Every year it moves a little closer and I get a little closer, and it changes. For me, those changes have meant the world.
It’s like not worrying about gifts, but counting it an awesome privilege to buy a toaster for your aunt or that scarf you’ve seen in your roommate’s pictures in Japan.
It’s getting cozy with a friend and hot cocoa, reminiscing on the past year’s work, and for just a moment, forgetting the work that needs to be done today.
It’s reading the story of the candy cane on the back of a candy box, and thinking, “huh, so that’s what it means. Relevant.”
It’s driving past that 4 story, fully lit tree on Bowling Avenue and nearly stopping as you crane your neck to just catch a glimpse of it.
I believe in this story– this story that took years of listening and fidgeting and interrupting and being still for me to understand. And I believe in these traditions– giving as freely as I have received, listening because He has heard me, being led as a helpless sheep in this bigger than life circle of lovely things, living at the center of constant fascination— I get it. But I think the striking thing is I will spend the rest of my life trying to understand it more, but never will. Seriously. I will spend the rest of my life living in the middle of this story led by a star, some big promises and big words, and a lot of hay, and I will never fully grasp it.
I can hardly wait.