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.