Photo Credit: Stephanie Strauss Hall
The Christmas story is so familiar that it comes as an inevitability for most of us. A baby lying in a manger, lights on the streets and carols on the radio, starting in November, and bringing with it a host of parties and decorating, baking and lists. The story comes, with all its trappings, every year at this time. But does Jesus come, I mean really come, and show up and change my life?
We’re decorating, and the carols are playing and I have this image of smiles and laughter, kids filled with eager expectation, and an afternoon of family togetherness. What actually happens is over-excited kids arguing over the two and a half pairs of noisy elf shoes that a well-meaning aunt gifted them last Christmas, and O Holy Night being drowned out by a tinny rendition of Jingle Bells and impending melt-downs, while the puppy chews on the tree skirt. My expectations threaten my ability to feel the promise of the coming Prince of Peace.
It is time for the Christmas concert, on a weeknight, and supper is hotdogs in seventeen minutes between trying to find the earrings that go with the Christmas dress and an argument about the necessity of brushing hair. Jesus is coming, but I can’t think about Him right now. There’s a diaper to change, and the car tires are low again and need to be filled before we can leave, so we’re down a parent on the search for a missing mitten. Mighty God, we could use you now, but we haven’t got the time.
Somewhere else, the kids are grown and gone, and it is the first Christmas without a wife of 35 years. The pain was a too-late clue to the cancer that stole her energy and then her life. The decorations are in the boxes in the basement, and they are too heavy with grief to be lifted. The bells are ringing, once the source of great joy, and now an instigator of a flood of tears. Everlasting Father, what do we do when our comfort has escaped us, and we everything we thought was everlasting seems to have shattered right in our hands?
In another heart, the promise of a baby is just another reminder of empty arms and silence in a home that was built for children that have never come. It is too much to hear the story one more time. The nativity feels like a funeral for the three babies born into heaven, every single year. Wonderful Counsellor, where have you been?
Just like our ancestors in faith, we are waiting for king of glory and power, one who comes to fix and save us from ourselves and our suffering, and just like that night some two thousand years ago, he comes in the silence and the small, the whispering and the dark. He comes in the cracks, whispering in the darkness, crying out with us.
He comes in ways that I cannot recognize Him without the eyes of faith. After I have spoken harshly, abused my power as a parent, He shows up under the tree when my oldest pulls out a book and reads to her younger siblings, bringing on thirty seconds of miracle in 13 inches beneath the twinkling lights. He shows up while they turn off all the lights when I am trying to cook, so that they can all sit in the magic of just the tree lights.
He shows up when I concede that we will just be late and unkempt for the Christmas concert. Jesus comes, when the flood of tears gives way to a shower and early night, wrapped around her pillow, and a dream of a first date. He arrives, when at Christmas Mass, for a moment, that couple holds another family’s baby and receives an invitation to be godparents.
Jesus comes, into whatever our lives look like today. He comes into our loneliness, our depression, our busyness, and even our expectation. He comes without fanfare and angels, without the need for a room, all prepared and ready. Whatever today brings, He is coming. It is enough that I show up for what today holds and expect to see his tiny presence, that I anticipate that today, he is born again, to save a world that is distracted, and a little bit crazy, like me.
Even here, even now, he comes, again. The story is ever ancient, and ever new. The manger is whatever corner in which He fits. When I notice Him there, I can stop to adore Him, to make a little more room. Because Jesus has changed everything. These little people who need more of me than I feel I have to offer get what they need because He comes and shows up and makes more room in my heart. He whispers that I get to choose again every time I fail. He offers a peace that comes when I surrender to what is, today.
This is the miracle. He comes even here, especially here, to the places that are not yet whole. Emmanuel, God is with us.