Each Christmas season, we take our nativity scene out of storage, unwrap the packaging and put it on display. I go outside to cut branches from evergreen trees to place around the scene, and I cover the greenery in amber colored pine cone lights to softly glow each winter evening. This year, we added in real pine cones with edges covered in gold glitter to go along with the lights. It is, in essence, a way of bringing together nature and theology, of bringing together heaven and earth.
In this nativity scene, the mother of the Christ Child both holds and kneels before the baby. Some know her as Mary, some call her St. Mary. In Greek, she is called Theotokos - the God bearer.
Each Christmas season, there are these lovely moments, these simple moments, when ornaments go neatly onto the branches of the tree, when we put all the pieces where they belong, when we step back to see the beauty, or even the perfection, of the decorations. In those moments, I feel so grateful for every good thing that has been given to me.
Sometimes we bring our best and good comes of it. Sometimes we give our best, and it doesn't seem to be enough.
There are Christmases in my life that I would rather not remember. There were a lot of sorrowful holidays for me growing up, and many other Gen Xers would say the same. Of course, we find new ways to be happy, we make new traditions, we try not to let the past overshadow the present. In those evening moments when the sun sets and the Christmas lights start to come on in the neighborhood, if I need to, I let myself grieve for a few moments, and then and then I move on to something quotidian to bring me back to the present, like putting dishes into a sink of hot soapy water, or making hot apple cider so that the house is full of the smell of cinnamon and cloves. It is amazing what spiritual beings we are, and at the same time, it is profound that we are so rooted to the earth, the way we are flesh and blood beings, connected to the physical things around us. Christ was born into the most humble beginnings imaginable, and when he did, God became less abstract to us, he became someone who breathes the same air that we do. He became incarnate.
Why the world needs God is because it is a broken place, and because we live in a broken place, we also find ourselves broken. And when God made himself incarnate, he made himself vulnerable to every wound, heartbreak, and betrayal that a person can experience in this life. This is what brings me to my knees every Christmas - that God made himself a defenseless infant to the coldness of night, so that he would fully know what we feel like when we are cold. When Christ was born, the love of God became so profoundly palpable. When Christ was born, he proved that love means suffering with those who suffer. When Christ was born, everything changed.
God is with us.
The white-golden glow of Christmas lights from our tree shine on these small nativity images of the most extraordinary story I have yet to hear. And to know that Christ was laid in a wooden manger so that he would some day show sacrificial love by hanging on a wooden cross - - I just cannot get over this story, I cannot help but be moved, even changed, by it every Christmas. I have devoured as much literature as I can get my hands on from the centuries of the human experience, and no story has ever brought me to my knees like this one.
And when looking back on a another year of life on this earth where darkness has tried to make us all live in fear, this is the story that instead gives us hope. When dusk comes and goes, and the Christmas lights on the houses shine in front of a backdrop of a cold winter night, when the soft glow of candles flicker on the table that you eat from this holiday season, remember this:
A light has shone in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
Merry Christmas, friends. And a link below to some words I wrote three years ago...