I wrote this piece last year, at the point of the pandemic when folks were just starting to get vaccinated, when we stayed far away from each other for Christmas. This year seems different. We still haven’t returned to the magic of large family gatherings like we had when I was a child, but many […]Missing the Magical, Longing for the Actual, a re-visit — Next Chapter
Each November my husband and I create a Google doc — a list of all the gifts we’d like to purchase in December. We’ve found this necessary because we have seven (yes, 7!) December birthdays in our immediate family. And all the birthday celebrating we do in December culminates, as you may know, in Christmas! For years we have spent Thanksgiving to New Year’s in a whirlwind of activity — purchasing, preparing, sending, and celebrating.
We can get so busy, so caught up in the details of all the festivities, that we can forget the why — the reason we celebrate.
We don’t often lose sight of why we celebrate the birthdays of our loved ones because they are (even if virtually) physically present in our lives, and even in the most difficult of years, we are thankful for that.
However, even with all the garland and bows and carols and gifts, or perhaps because of them, we can lose the wonder of why we are celebrating Christmas.
Why is it that most of the country — much of the world — stops what they are doing every year for at least a full day if not a full week or more? Why is it that retailers organize months’ worth of marketing, staging, and purchasing toward December? Why is it assumed that we will gather with family and friends, exchange gifts, and transform our homes for a month out of every year?
What could it be that aligns us all in a common activity, a common momentum, a common — dare I say — purpose?
It couldn’t be — could it? — the ages old myth-like tale of a woman, some angels, a donkey, a stable, and an infant? Is that story, which has been told and retold in various forms for generations, the why that propels us all toward a seemingly united series of activities — where we dress in red, light our trees, purchase stamps by the roll, bake dozens of sweets, and wrap our carefully chosen gifts in the wee hours of the night?
Is it possible that a centuries old story, one that some of us believe and some of us don’t, has the power to draw our eyes, dictate our spending, and determine our social calendars for weeks at a time. Does that seem odd, especially right now when we have trouble agreeing on most everything? We can’t get on the same page about climate change, gun violence, or even a global pandemic, but we all seem to be willing to purchase an ugly sweater and wear it on a prescribed day.
We give lavishly during this season — to our friends, our coworkers, our families, and even those we do not know. We are generous, we spread good cheer, we even dare to hold on to hope. All of us!
Is it because a baby was born over two centuries ago?
How could one baby born in a manger change anything?
It makes no sense at all.
Omnipotent, omniscient, eternal God distills Himself into infant form, becomes human, and lives among us? How can one life — one perfect sinless life — atone for all the harm we have inflicted on one another?
It’s simple: He’s the answer to our why.
He’s the only One.
He’s the only One who can heal the sick with His touch, calm the sea with His breath, and save us all with His life.
He’s the only One who is with us in the busyness, in the shopping, in the decorating, in the frantic checking off of tasks. He’s with us — God with us — even when we have lost our recognition of the why.
He, my friends, the baby, Jesus, is the why.
The whole earth rejoices — stars appear, angels sing, kings trek across the land — at His birth. And we long, we groan, we wait for His return.
Because until His return, we will lose sight of the why again and again — we will turn to ourselves and strive to create a perfect Christmas, a perfect experience for our families, a perfect celebration of love.
We will get a glimpse, because He — Jesus — is God with us, but we will not yet fully see the joy, the unity, the peace that He will bring.
Yet, even now, from His fullness — the beautiful fullness embodied in that infant — we have all received grace upon grace. Grace for when we overlook him, for when we get caught up in task completion, for when we have forgotten, or for when we have refused to believe that He is indeed God with us — Emmanuel.
How do we adequately pause — rush to the manger, bow down, and acknowledge the one who makes all things new? We start now, in this moment, putting down our list, lifting our eyes, and adoring the infant born in a manger long ago.
We, like the shepherds, bend our knees. We, like the angels, declare His glory. We, like the kings, bring Him our finest gifts. We, like Mary, ponder this miracle in our hearts.
The God of the universe put on flesh — in the form of an infant — to be with us.
That is our why — that is the reason we celebrate Christmas.
O Come Let Us Adore Him.
*allegory, a symbolic fictional narrative that conveys a meaning not explicitly set forth in the narrative
Her wound was open. She sat, sobbing.
It wasn’t the first time. Although it had scabbed over time and again since the injury was first sustained, it could be torn open with the slightest impact, even now, decades later.
She’d been a child when the initial blow had been dealt and her still-young flesh had first been split open. The pain had been stunning — it had shoved her back, and she had sat, a child, weeping on the floor, holding her chest, trying to stop the hemorrhaging.
After she had tired from much sobbing and flailing about, it had subsided — the pain, the bleeding — receding to a dull but ever present ache.
Since then, she had carried it around with her, this bruised and tender flesh,
It was the kind of injury that never fully heals, the experts had said. Even when sustained during the growing years, the body — the heart — could not regenerate enough cells to fully heal the damage that had been done.
The injury would remain, opening up from time to time. Then, new cells would form to stop the bleeding, to cover over the gaping wound. She’d use caution, covering the tender area with a protective layer, shielding it from subsequent blows, learning to avoid danger, developing a keen defensive awareness.
She’d be so careful, so vigilant, that she could even believe the spirit-altering injury might actually be healing. The pain would subside, and she would become hopeful that she would never again shed tears, never again ache, never again sob with the pain or even the memory of the pain.
But then, from out of nowhere — but often from somewhere familiar — a pointed blade would find its way through her armor, past layers of clothing, beneath the dressings, to pierce the flesh. Just like that, the wound would be torn open and she would crumble again, down, down, down, weeping, sobbing, holding her heart, and begging for the pain to stop,
In the early years, not long after the wound had first been dealt, she would, in pain, lash out — swinging and flailing at those closest, begging them to join her in the misery. Over the years, however, she learned this strategy was ineffective — it did not diminish her own hurt, but rather multiplied it. Instead of joining her in her pain, the others turned away, kept their distance, isolating her, piling guilt and regret on top of pain, and leaving those she loved with their own wounds to tend.
Later, as she aged, when certainly, she thought, this decades-old injury had to be fully healed, she could still be brought low by a stray arrow, an unintended blow that nevertheless grazed the tender flesh, re-opening the wound.
It was open now. The middle-aged heart had been hit, and it was laid bare.
Reminding her of the many years of pain, many years of tears, many years of swallowing feelings past a tightened aching throat.
She lay supine, futilely wiping away an unstoppable deluge of tears, fighting against the years of pain — still not wanting to feel it — still not wanting to admit I’m hit! I’m hurt! I’m bleeding! I’m suffering!
Those standing over her, observing her as she lie bleeding, sobbing, say her wound, her perpetually open wound, informs her compassion, gives her language to comfort others with the comfort she herself has received, but that is little consolation when the tenuous flesh has been recently sliced, when the blood is dripping on the floor, when she is doubled over, trying desperately to silence her own cries.
Nevertheless she hears.
She admits they are right.
Her pain does give her compassion for others.
She sighs in resignation, then does what she has always done.
She sits up, dabbing at the now-congealing blood,
taking a sip of cool water,
applying fresh dressings,
washing her face,
combing her hair.
Then, as she examines herself in the mirror, she hears a still small voice, “Do not be afraid; do not discouraged, for I am with you wherever you go.”
“I know,” she says, nodding, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye, “I know.”
And she, carrying the open wound with her, steps back into the land of the living.