I find myself staring at this Kleenex box for a few moments. In the most lovely winter blue color with the most lovely pattern of words in different fonts and sizes – joy FAMILY cheers Love HAPPINESS – it’s both functional and wonderfully decorative for the holiday season. It feeds my desire to feel as though I’ve really got all my bases covered in keeping up with a complete celebration of Christmas, if I’ve got not just the tree, not just the lights, not just the wrapped gifts, not just the mailed cards, not just the cozy décor, not just the kids’ Christmas outfits, not just the seasonal scented soaps, not just the special sugary treats, but even my Kleenex box for crying out loud (no pun intended) has got the most lovely winter Christmas design.
I do appreciate this for what it is. My family is comfortable, safe and well-fed, we have a home to decorate, and this is not to be underestimated. Life is refreshingly simple for my girls. They shriek with such joy every evening when the lights on the tree and house turn on, it tempers the obligation I feel to drive them across town through frantic pre-Christmas traffic in search of more spectacular light shows. For a few weeks, our home is extra sparkly, extra cozy, extra festive, fit for a King. It is so easy to ignite the girls’ sense of wonder with the most simple special thing. It is a sweet and precious time. God I love Christmas this way.
Going a bit deeper. The sparkles, the cozy feelings, the festivities, they are – and they aren’t – just a superficial treat. They can highlight the beauty of my children’s relative innocence and refresh our weary, over-complicated adult hearts. They can be a foreshadowing of the Day of Redemption when God makes all things new once and forever, kindling our souls during Advent to look forward with greater longing for that Day.
Deeper. We would still be missing out though, if this was all our Christmas was about. The veneer of this Christmas, sparkly as it may be, can serve at best as a temporary cover to push away thoughts of Aleppo, angst over current U.S. politics, and sobering grief for the little patient in our hospital unit who has yet to find out half his family died in the freak car accident that has left him with life-threatening injuries throughout his little body. If celebrating Christmas is just about producing a month of sparkles made complete with a charming, well-marketed Kleenex box, well then Christmas is not entirely for the disadvantaged and certainly not for the semi-conscious child clinging to life in the hospital or Aleppo. The sparkly version of Christmas, it comes and goes, fills and disappoints – both, and.
But there’s more, even more.
Christmas is for the heart asking, God, do You know what it is to be poor? In newborn Jesus who took his place next to animals and their dung at His birth, who grew into an adult with no place to lay His head, He says yes. Yes, I know what it is to be poor, and I am Emmanuel, God with you.
God, do You know what it is to feel lonely? In Jesus who was perpetually misunderstood and ultimately forsaken by His closest friends in His time of greatest need, He says yes. Yes, I know what it is to be lonely, and I am Emmanuel, God with you.
God, do You know what it is to suffer tremendous physical illness and pain? In Jesus, already brutally beaten and then nailed to suffer, suffocate, and die on the cross, He says yes. Yes, I know what it is to suffer tremendous physical illness, pain, and a horrific death, and I am Emmanuel, God with you.
God, do You know what it is to lose a member of the family? I mean, that member of the family who was your best friend, your safest place? In the Father giving Jesus to not only walk in our footsteps but then die the most agonizing death in our stead, He says yes. Yes, I know what it is to lose a member of your family, and I am Emmanuel, God with you.
God, do You know what it is to feel shame and isolation? In Jesus, who took every shameful secret unbelievable disappointing discouraging what-was-I-thinking, what-if-they-knew sin from our dark souls onto His otherwise completely pure self, and had His beloved Father turn His face away in fury and disgust from Him rather than from us, He says yes. Yes, I know what it is to feel devastating shame and isolation, and I am Emmanuel, God with you.
BUT GOD, do you know that nations of people feel as though You have forsaken them? In Jesus, who came through the fulfillment of centuries of prophecies, through the lineage of souls both righteous and not, through the sovereign rise and fall of nations, through a very long period of seemingly complete silence from God where nothing in the history books seemed to have anything to show of God being anywhere at work amongst mankind, there He was. The beautiful, radical, upside-down, rightside-up, unfolding of God’s wise and loving sovereignty over all of history. There He was, Jesus, saying yes. Yes, I know it feels that I have forgotten about the nations, but here I am; I am Emmanuel, God with you.
He is with us. In all of this. In all that we find ourselves in this Christmas 2016, a year so many are cursing from every angle. The sparkles and the shame, the glory and the grief, the songs and the silence.
this is wonderous.
O come, O come, Emmanuel.