Christmas Eve: More than presents


For the first decade or so of my life, December 26 always marked the start of the blues. Even though there was still a week of vacation left, everything fun and holiday-related was over. The time of waiting and anticipation had passed; all the gifts had been opened, all the family get-togethers wound down, no more church dressed up with poinsettias and wreaths. It was probably my least favorite week of the year, which had been preceded by the absolute top.

I still feel a fleeting sense of post-Christmas blues as December 25 turns to darkness, but it dissipates when I remember two things: 1) that Christmas will come again next year, and 2) that Christmas (and Advent) is only the beginning. We have waited so long over these weeks, and maybe even longer than that, and now the time has come--hope and love and peace and joy have landed on this earth again to save us. Of course, they never really left, thank God. But my sense of missing Christmas (probably expounded as a child by the fact that time seems to go so slowly) has now transformed almost into another Advent--continued anticipation, ongoing hope for what this new chapter, this new year will bring. And the knowledge that whatever comes, we will keep the light going until this sacred time of waiting comes 'round to us again.

Thank you for reading, writing, praying, and hoping alongside me this season. It's been a gift. Merry Christmas!

Advent 3.7: going to be

Recently the question came up:
did Jesus always know He was God?
It's something I've never thought about
and I liked suddenly thinking about it,
though I don't think I can ever settle on an answer.
Was there a "Superman moment," as my friend put it,
or was the knowledge always etched in his human-yet-divine bones?
Do any of us start out knowing what we are? who we are?
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes--
but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.

I never held much to that--infant wins out over God, in my book.
Or maybe God completely transforms into infant--
every need, every bawl, every discovery, every chuckle
full of heaven and earth all at once.
Tonight I watched our niece unwrap Christmas for the very first time.
As we surrounded her, savoring her cheeks, her light laughs, her roving eyes,
my husband asked aloud, wonderingly, close to jubilant expectation--
"What are you going to be?"
I imagine, that though they still had imprints of the angel, the dream, the star burned on their brains,
the known unknown that something far beyond them was at work,
Mary and Joseph still looked at their new boy and asked the same question:
"What are you going to be?"


Advent 3.6: Glory by

Another piece from Advent 2012.


The first verse of "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" reminds me of the Peanuts gang, their wide mouths open, cartoon heads thrown back as they surround Charlie Brown's lowly holy Christmas tree on the fresh snowy night and sing loudly and unabashedly and joyously, like the children they are, but also with an element of knowledge, of certainty, that perhaps only animated characters can possess. It's like earlier in their Christmas special, when Linus says in his tiny sure voice, clutching his blue blanket, more matter-of-fact than any pastor, "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

That first stanza is almost like The Lord's Prayer; I know it frontwards and backwards, sideways and upside down. I learned these phrases by heart before I truly knew what they meant, one long word: peaceonearthandmercymildgodandsinnersreconciled. (I know I knew this song before I knew what "reconcile" meant.) 


The second and third verses I learned on Christmas Eves; it's the song we sing to welcome the Christ child into the world, and more immediately, to welcome the baby starring as Jesus from behind the stage and out in front of the congregation. The parents, dressed as Mary and Joseph, hold their child up for all to see, like Rafiki presenting Simba to the crowd of animals gathered around Pride Rock. They certainly don't have to act out their grins. A spotlight graces the wriggling infant, and suddenly "Hail the heaven-born prince of peace!" becomes much more real and present.

But my favorite lines are the last of the hymn, and at our church service they normally happen when the child is back in Mary's arms, being cradled and comforted after the big display. We continue to sing:

Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die.

The crescendo here brings tears to my eyes, the joy, the promise of this smallest human being.

Born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.

This little twenty-first century baby has no idea what is happening, or what is being sung, what he or she is representing. And perhaps that's the beauty of it. Did Jesus know who he was as he lay in the manger, being heralded by angels? I imagine that he probably didn't; like any child who has ever "acted" in this sacred role, Jesus was simply himself. He reached his small arms out to his mother, but as he grew up, he came to understand that he was actually reaching for the whole world.