It’s all there every year…boxes of lights, glass bulbs, snowmen and a tree that over years now leans a little to the left. Decorations that announce “Merry Christmas” dot the house—all the artifacts that say December 25 is fast approaching when gifts will be exchanged, unwrapped and laughter will waft through the house along with the smell of candles and the favorite foods for this time of the year.
I don’t know when it happened; somewhere over the years from childhood to being a responsible adult. It just found it’s way into my life amid the rush of shopping, parties, cards sent, pageants attended, and one more call to do something of good cheer. Somewhere I just lost the mystery of what Christmas is all about. I’ve been called Scrooge a time or two over my life, yet in my defense, I enjoy things, not always because of what they are but because of what they mean, really mean at the core of our being in the way that affects us. So over time, for me the squabbles over “Keep Christ in Christmas,” or “Merry Christmas over Happy Holidays,” and even “It’s our baby Jesus, not yours….so love it or leave it” have taken their toll. The good cheer that is on everyone’s lips for 45 days once a year never seem to be transferred into the other 48 weeks. The sights, smells, and sounds of this time seem to make us feel all cuddly, warm, and nostalgic about life, but once these days are gone, it’s back to normal…whatever form that brings to each person. Even here I can hear the reader affirm…”Yep, you ARE Scrooge.”
God, however, shows up in funny places sometimes in life, just when we need it. I was fixing a porcelain “wise man” I had broken (long story) from an heirloom nativity. Glue and lots of pieces lay on the work space. The whole manger scene, however, was stacked in a pile next to the shards of this red robed messenger. I had been listening to Christmas music, as I was alone for the day. In these movements of trying to get Elmer’s Glue to do its thing, I realized the manger should not be waiting for a lost comrade before it could be placed. So I put the press board stable with pitched roof (so European, I might add) on a table in the living room, arranged all the characters where they are supposed to be, and plugged in the cord to illuminate the stable with the white coated bulb “over the place where he lay.”
It was while arranging the pieces that Michael W. Smith’s CD “Christmastime” came to the track…”Tears are falling, hearts are breaking, How we need to hear from God. You’ve been promised we’ve been waiting, Welcome Holy Child, Welcome Holy Child.” My own tears started slowly meandering down my cheeks… “Hope you don’t mind our manger, How I wish we would have known; But long awaited Holy Stranger, Make yourself at home. Please make yourself at home. Bring your peace into our violence, Bid our hungry souls be filled. World now breaking Heaven’s silence, Welcome to our world, Welcome to our world.”
That’s what I had lost at some point—the mystery. Really, if we are honest, the story makes no sense. God, the creator of the galaxies, the expanse of infinity and unknown, would choose to come to be WITH US—Immanuel—his creation, so he could bring hope into brokenness, a way to live transformed in peace and abundance, the path to be reconciled to God and each other, and the reality that life will spring triumphantly from the sorrow of death. Really? It’s a mystery so grand that only my heart can come to perceive it. It is a mystery too great that can never be found in a string of lights, a box of chocolates, or any gift that will make the day perfect. The mystery is not housed in whether I say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays….it is bound in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It is a mystery I had allowed to become lessened by ravenous commercialism, nonsensical debate, and forgotten by many on December 26.
It is too much a mystery that endless grace, mercy, forgiveness would pour out of God’s being into a human being, so that we might experience wonderful counsel, the mighty God, and peace and love beyond our grasp. “Child in a manger, Infant of Mary. Outcast stranger, Lord of all. Child who inherits all our transgressions, all our demerits on Him fall. Once the most holy Child of salvation, Gently and lowly, Now as our glorious Mighty Redeemer, See Him victorious O’er each foe.”
The soft tears had by now turned to those we often experience when flooded with emotion to deep to control by our own fortitude. “Tidings bring! Hail the King, shepherds did adore Him, From afar by the star, Wise men sought and found Him. Son of God Son of man, All in all I see. Carols raise, His name praise, He shall reign eternally. Carols sing to the King, Jesus Christ our Savior.” That is the mystery and wonder of this time of year that I have been longing for. To remember and experience refreshed the “reason for the season.”
There is a space in the manger scene for the repaired wise man to join the others once the glue is dry. It is a visual reminder that there is always space to join in the mystery of believing that God came and “pitched his tent with us” so that we might experience love, joy, and peace that nothing humanly can capture. (John 1:14) I cannot promise the accoutrements of Christmas and the unfortunate behaviors often witnessed will not draw from me a “Bah-Humbug” in the future. Yet, this year, my heart is drawn again to the wonder and mystery of this ancient story told from the foundation of the world, through voices and witnesses of those who longed to see it (1 Peter 1)….”Joy to the world! The Lord has come! Let earth receive her King! Let every heart, prepare him room! And heaven and nature sing!”