“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.Forunto you is born this day inthe city of Davida Savior, who isChristthe Lord.Andthis will be a sign for you: you will find a babywrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” ~Luke 2:10-12
What will happen tomorrow is a celebration of a true story. For just a minute, read. Remember. Listen to the words like they are brand new to you. This passage matters far more than our gift lists and cookie platters and impending family gatherings.
My life was changed by these words, by the deep and gracious truths within.
The Birth of Jesus
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord.12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
So, here we are. It is Christmas Eve. The frantic running of "one last errand" is slowing... The counting of presents, the making of lists, the worrying and scurrying and flurrying are falling away. And, here we are.
This is what I know. Christmas is not about any of that. Those busy things are what distract us from all that matters most.
What matters most is this:
With great compassion, God wrapped His love for us in a fragile, tangible, beautiful child. There is nothing more important than God offering us a way... a way to be with Him, a way to be forgiven, a way to see and know and feel love. The birth of Jesus offered all of this to us.
So, together let's take a breath. Together, let's remind ourselves that what our families will take from this sweet holiday has more to do with love than presents, more to do with being than doing, more to do with God's gift than our holiday trappings. We have these two days to shower upon our families the love that was showered on us.
Yep, it's Christmas Eve. What comes next will not be perfect... all will not go as planned... Focus on what matters and store up the rest as memories. Hold the faces of those you love and give to them what was given to you.
It was totally my fault. I remembered on Friday, on Saturday, and at 3:30 AM on Monday morning. The preschool had sent out a reminder about Monday's show and tell and the directions were simple. "Please have your child bring something that shows the baby Jesus."
It was totally my fault. I had a good plan. Josiah could bring the baby Jesus from the PlayMobile Nativity set and Elizabeth could bring the baby Jesus from the advent calendar we were not using nearly regularly enough. But, the morning got away from us and we left in a hurry and while I felt like we were forgetting something, I didn't know what so we piled in the van and shivered on our way through the 18 degree morning.
Against the odds we were on time for preschool and it was not until I was ready to leave my little ones to their busy morning that I overheard a comment about the show and tell.
Turning to the nearest of the many compassionate teachers, I said, "I completely forgot the show and tell..."
She tried to comfort me, really she did. But, I knew my kids should have this item and it was my job to be sure that they, at 4 and 5, had what they needed for school.
Eager to save the day, I said, "I will run to the grocery store next door and buy a Christmas card with Jesus on it and run it right back for them to share with their class. "
She tried to talk me out of it. I should have listened. She told me that they had old Christmas cards but I said no and ran out the door. How hard could this be, to find a Christmas card with Jesus on it on December 17?
I had a date to meet friends for coffee... a special morning and one which I looked forward to very much. So, I had to hurry to bring Jesus to preschool so I could savor those moments of conversation and caffeine and comfort in the midst of this busy, chilly season.
Into the Jewel I ran... surely a grocery store set in the midst of conservative community would have a Christmas card with a picture of the Holy family on front. Naively, on my way in, I thought maybe I would splurge on a cute ornament that would fit the occasion... not only saving the day but providing my kids with a story for years to come.
I quickly found the "Holiday" aisle and began to sort through all the varied paraphernalia. I found Santa in spades and sports cars (no kidding) and sparkly letters that spelled out JOY. I found houses decorated, and much about Rudolf and starry skies. Christmas cards for photos and money and a good belly laugh... but NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING with any hint of Jesus could be found.
I was perplexed. How could this be? Surely this was an overlook on the part of this one store. So, already late for coffee, I ran to another store... to a strip mall... to another grocery store... to a hardware store... and I swear I am telling the truth when I say there was not one Jesus to be found! There was no ornament or decoration or gift card or representation of any kind that showed the true reason for this most important of days... he was absent completely from all of it. By the time I pulled out of the last store, I was late and frustrated and ANGRY. It is not that I have never lived "in the world". I have and I remember it well. But, even when I lived in that place, I know He was there. I remember him there, even in the days before I knew Him at all.
Something about that made me profoundly sad. I sat in the van, unsure what to do, and prayed.
"My dear Jesus, I am so sorry. I am so very, very sorry. I am sorry that we have left you out, that you are lost in the midst of it all. I am sorry that the world that NEEDS you right now cannot find you in the middle of the time when we celebrate your very coming to be with us, when we celebrate the beginning of your wondrous plan. And whatever my part, I am sorry for that...for not demanding better... for not expecting better... for not remembering today. I am sorry... and I remember now. I see you now. I will not leave you out."
In my sadness, I pulled close to the one who loves me best. In my sadness, my eyes were opened and was reminded how important that central focus really is. I had not really forgotten. I just think I had not really remembered.
One more store. I talked myself into it the whole drive there. It was an old fashioned "five and dime" in the center of town. In I walked and 5 minutes later, out I came with two different Jesus ornaments in my possession to hand to my little ones, waiting at school. I hoped it wasn't too late. That wish hit me deeply... I hope it isn't too late. Suddenly it was not about the ornaments or about preschool or about the coffee with friends that had started without me. It was about a bigger picture. With Jesus in my hand, I rang the preschool doorbell and hoped it was not too late... for my kids... for my family... for this town and this country and this world to know that that which I held tightly in my grip is more important that the rest of it, by far.
It was totally my fault... but in the end, I found the reason for it all and a lesson that I hold inside of me tonight. We cannot leave Him out... not from the stores, not from this season, not from our world.
Snow hit Chicago about a week ago. It was the first REAL snow and it stuck! Our kids were bubbling over with winter joy and just could not wait one more second to get outside and run and play and roll in that gorgeous blanket of white.
It was about that time that we realized that our 10 year old son had outgrown ALL his snow gear! The snow pants and boots were way to small and he was going to miss out on all the fun! In addition to missing a lot of play in his yard, he would not be allowed to play outside at school, either. We carefully chose our children's school and one thing that we love is that they are offered 3 recesses each day, sun or snow! But, without the right supplies, Noah would be watching all the fun on the playground through the windows of his classroom.
So, we packed up all four kids and headed out to find boots and snow pants for our first-born. (As an aside, we were not in the store long before I remembered WHY I do not take all four of my kids shopping at once... even with the help of my dear husband!) We arrived at Target, found the boot aisle and began to shop. Well, we tried to begin to shop. : ) The shelves were nearly empty and the sizes available were not my son's. I found a Target employee and asked for assistance. After three Target employees came to help us, all of them on high tech walkie talkies, AND after they explained that their extra stock was kept at a remote location could not be available to us until well into the next day, we were told that they had NO boots in my son's size in the store or in the mysterious remote location.
Given the fact that the winter season has not yet officially begun and the fact that this was the first actual winter weather to hit our area, I asked what I felt was a logical question.
"When will you be getting more boots?"
In an attitude I would prefer to not see again, one of the Target employees said, "Oh, we will not be getting any more boots in!". She then giggled AT ME, and continued, "We are making room for the sandals!"
Instinctually, I checked the date setting on my watch. Um... it is December, isn't it? I didn't accidentally sleep through four months and miss winter, did I? I said nothing, wrapped my children back up and headed off to Wal-Mart.
I am tired of being rushed from one season to the next. Truth be told, I will never need sandals in December... or January or February or even March! In Chicago, we will likely see little sun or grass until April and in my mind, it is best for me to spend these waiting months enjoying the season in which I am immersed.
In the past ten years, most stores have come to believe that every day is part of a marketing season and I have come to hate the way they sell their goods. A couple years ago, I shopped on December 26th and found Valentine's Day decorations being put up around the store. Still dressed in red and green, with a wilted fir tree in my living room, I could not have been more discouraged. I was not ready to think about February. I wanted to think about today. We are being "marketed" to death and in the mean time, what we need is rarely available at the time we need it. Target would like me to shop for boots in August but I just won't do it. We needed school shoes in August, which I was likely supposed to buy in June.
So, after all of this, my son now has boots and snow pants that fit. I am grateful to Wal-Mart for that. And I am more sure than ever that there is wisdom in a One Day at at Time approach to life. Today is December 11. Christmas has not come and gone but is in full swing. I want to listen to carols, sip hot cider, plan my gift giving and wear warm shoes. I do not want to think about warmer days when the glory of cold, blowy days and snowball fights and snowmen has just come to pass.
Stop pushing me, Target! My kids are only young once and I do not want to be in such a rush to get from season to season that I miss them laughing in the yard, with snowflakes on faces, making angels in the snow.
It seems a whole lot of my life is spent waiting. I am more aware of this now, as my children eagerly await the celebration of Christmas, counting down the days, the hours, the minutes until the 25th. I think this lifestyle of waiting must be one of those things that you really become aware of once you begin your family.
Throughout pregnancy, you wait. Wait to tell, wait to show, wait to feel that baby kick. You wait to deliver, wait while you labor, and wait to see that little one's face. Oddly, you think that this is the end of the waiting.... but instead, it is only the beginning.
A new little one in your arms, you begin to wait for all new things. You wait for attachment, wait to adjust to nursing, wait for the baby to roll over, to crawl, to walk. You wait for preschool, wait for Kindergarten, and then find yourself crying on the sidewalk in the wake of big yellow bus.
Today, I wait in line to pick up my preschoolers, wait at the door for my school aged kids to come home and wait to see what will become of them all... of US all.
In a society that teaches us to tap our feet impatiently at the very thought of waiting, I want to ground myself in something much more timeless. Especially now, in the season of Advent, I want to seek the heart of Mary who knew, even at a young age, to "ponder these things up in her heart". She knew she was part of something miraculous and while I certainly cannot compare raising my four sweet babies to raising the Son of God, I do not want to miss those miracles happening around me.
Today, Josiah, who was born with an arm that would do nothing but hang limply at his side, waved that healed arm enthusiastically to greet me after a morning at preschool. Today, Elizabeth, who came to us with an ear for Chinese and took her precious time to learn to talk, chatted INCESSANTLY on our drive in the van. Today, Benjamin, who surprised us with a hole in his heart, beat his older brother home, running like a wild man from the bus to our house. Today, our oldest and most shy child came home and talked about how he was given a leadership job in his small group at school and how much he liked taking a position up front. This is the same child who a year ago would have rather stayed home than act as a leader!
There are so many things to ponder during the long waits of my life... so many miracles that surround me as I fly from activity to activity, nearly missing the whole of it to tend to that which likely is not important at all. Today, I choose to sit. I choose to watch. I choose to ponder and wonder and in doing so tie myself to the story that calls to me throughout this Christmas season. Today, I will still my tapping foot, stay present in this one moment, and try to see what is miraculous all around.
This sounds like a full and joyous journey... with room for beauty and story and grace.
"If we could condense all the truths of Christmas into only three words, these would be the words: "God with us." We tend to focus our attention at Christmas on the infancy of Christ. The greater truth of the holiday is His deity. More astonishing than a baby in the manger is the truth that this promised baby is the omnipotent Creator of the heavens and the earth!"
As I sit here in the sun, I am surrounded by the trappings of it all. Boxes half-empty. Bags pulled from the attic. Tiny tufts of pink insulation that traveled down and lie lifeless on the floor. The tree is up and lights are strung and the mounds of decorations are ready to be placed. I know it will all look lovely but for now it is just a mess.
Oddly though, nothing in this mess has a thing to do with Christmas. Except... possibly... the mess itself. Because the truth is that a stable is an awfully messy place to birth your baby boy. And Mary and Joseph's lives... oh, their young and faithful lives... quickly became a mess, as well. When I spend these minutes thinking about it all... I realize perhaps I have misunderstood faith in more ways than one. Because sometimes we think that being faithful will make our lives organized, shiny and neat. That the right of it will clear the wrong of the world. And yet, The One we seek to be faithful to came into the world in a way that created chaos in His loving parent's lives.
They were faithful and God still led them into a situation beyond what they could comprehend.
They were faithful and God still called them to do a job they felt inadequate to do.
They were faithful and God still allowed them to feel judged by the world around them.
They were faithful...
It had to feel like a mess. A holy, purposeful, blessed and confusing mess.
And yet, all they had to do was trust. Trust and walk. Because some messes are not so easily cleaned. And some cannot and should not be cleaned at all.
So Mary and Joseph settled into their mess and embraced their boy and did what felt impossible to them. They raised The One who would save us all. They wiped His tears and met His needs until He grew into who He always was... The One who would wipe my tears, and yours... and meet my needs, and yours...
I think there is nothing neat about faith. It is, instead, a willingness to trust that even in the chaos, we are not alone. It is, instead, trusting that somehow His Hand will uncover the lovely beneath.