As the Advent season meets Christmas, I find I am able to relax just a bit more and begin to accept the outcome of Christmas as it will be. I don’t fuss so much now. Soon, what is done will be done and what is not done will likely not matter.
That insight came to me late last week as I realized that I will soon celebrate my 41st Christmas. Yet, from all those years, I do not have a long-running play-by-play memory of each and every moment of those Christmases, only little bits of memories. Some memories are of sicknesses experienced during the season, like the year I had Chicken Pox, and the year my daughter was hospitalized with pneumonia. Some I remember for the gifts I received, most notably a stuffed dog named Ralph and a stuffed monkey named Zip when I was little. Some are more general memories of the laughter shared with friends and family, songs we sang together, and food we enjoyed together. And then there are the few memories of truly magical moments, when we would set out from Grandma’s farm for Midnight Mass to find freshly fallen snow, as if God read our minds and delivered the gift beyond our power to purchase…a blanket of white for us all.
I realized that none of these moments are exactly newsworthy in and of themselves. None of them make a great story or show all my hard work, or the hard work of those who loved me enough to make them happen. What they show, I guess, is that I am still no different today that the people of two thousand years ago. I still prepare for Christmas looking for a majestic King, not a humble babe in a manger.
Year after year as Advent dawns, I try to make Christmas royal and perfect: A Celebration To Remember! I am searching for a regal palace, not realizing that all the while all my busyness has left no room in my heart for anything less that the Royal Coming that I am prepared to celebrate. Meanwhile, quietly, in the midst of all my running errands, buying and wrapping, baking, mailing and all-out-busyness, God is working behind the scenes journeying with me, even as I feel my feet sinking into the sand. He strengthens me as I become overwhelmed by the pains of my labor. He finds rest for me, as I protest and keep searching for somewhere better, somewhere nobler, somewhere more worthy.
It is only in His perfect timing, that I am finally left with no better choice but to look around and realize that the hay is soft enough, the barnyard warm enough, the blankets gentle enough to welcome New Life into my heart after all. Only there, in that moment of acceptance, do I begin to see that even now, at Christmas, I am a child who believes in One she cannot see. Though the gift now is not the latest gadget or the newest gizmo delivered by a Man in Red. The gift now is a stirring up of memories from within that are the pinpricks of light from years past, moments of light from today, and the hope of more moments of light yet to come. These memories, experiences, and promises are the little bits of light strung around and through my heart that I hang in celebration for that Invisible One I long to see…but not yet.
And I realize, as I look back at all the preparation and labor, that I have begun to slow my breathing now, exhausted, and waiting in anticipation of that last final push, when I will welcome and see with new eyes the One who in true devotion, never left my side, but rather humbly allowed himself to disappear into the shadows of my heart, so that he could emerge anew.
He is Emmanuel, God with us.
Enjoy your Christmas! I look forward to seeing you again after the New Year!