Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Real Christmas

When I think "Christmas", I think warm and fuzzy. I think sparkly things everywhere and music that makes me feel cozy inside. Let's be honest- I think of all the stuff that advertisers want me to think. I've settled for a storefront depiction of Christmas, complete with a shiny nativity. This sleek Bethlehem stable with livestock smiling, Mary and Jesus snuggling, and angels performing live music in the background is very attractive. It's clean- we like that. (Who wants to see a bloody nativity?) It's romantic. More importantly, it makes me feel how I want to feel.

But this week I was realizing, it's not very real. In fact, not only is it a phony depiction of a live birth in a stable, but it's probably the polar opposite of reality for the family of Jesus. I mean here's a woman giving birth to her first child- a terrifying act in and of itself- displaced from her home, having just spent days on the back of a donkey, now holed up in a barn. Every comfort a woman would hope for during her first delivery- every familiarity, every expectation of warm fuzzy feelings- stripped from her. And here I am feeling depressed if I don't get a tree to don our window and make our house smell "Christmas-ey". Here I am realizing that my expectations for the meaningful events of my life have far more to do with nurturing a sense of comfort and security than perhaps anything else.

So today, I really thought about Mary, and the most meaningful event of her life. Blessed among women, chosen for one of the greatest tasks in redemptive history- and God didn't even save a hotel room for her. After all the persecution she bore for this child, after being so flexible and willing to travel at the end of her pregnancy- her reward was a cattle stall. Did she feel neglected? Did she ask whether or not God cared about her hopes and dreams for her family? Did she feel shame? Depression? I know I would. I actually started crying at the thought of giving birth to my first child in a shack for animals. I don't know that I'd be willing to give up my expectations- and my sense of comfort and security- if God asked it of me.

So back to the nativity scene- the real one, this time with a probably teary-eyed Mary and a terrified Joseph. I thought of the absolute mystery that the God of the universe- the Sovereign Lord over all creation- would choose this entry into the world. This, the Long Expected Messiah, the King of Israel, the Holy One- He is more worthy than all we have to offer. And yet He chose the lowliest of places. He chose to turn our expectations upside down. Instead of a comfortable, cozy first appearance that would appease our religious sensibilities and our aesthetic preferences, He chose His own way- the way of a servant. He chose to teach us all about who He really is from the moment of His birth.

I used to think I already knew the story of the first Christmas. I was very wrong. I'm realizing that it's a story I'll need to hear again and again- not because it makes me feel warm and fuzzy, but because it's uncomfortable. Because it challenges my expectations. Because like He did for Mary, Jesus turned my hopes and dreams upside down too- and in exchange, gave me greater joy than I could have ever imagined. I'm realizing that the joy of Christmas is a real joy- not the plastic, shiny kind found in storefronts, but a joy that's stained with blood and sweat and tears, like the ones that brought Christ into the world. It's not clean, and it's not romantic. But it's real- and it can survive even when every expectation and every comfort is lost.

This is an amazing song about the first Christmas. Click here to listen to the music.

It was not a silent night

There was blood on the ground

You could hear a woman cry

In the alleyways that night

On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean

And the cobblestones were cold

And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face

Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain

It was a cold sky above

But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart

It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph at her side

Callused hands and weary eyes

There were no midwives to be found

In the streets of David's town

In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed

Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb,

He was the maker of the moon

He was the Author of the faith

That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain

It was a cold sky above

But for the girl on the ground in the dark

With every beat of her beautiful heart

It was a labor of love

For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face

It was a labor of love

1 comment:

not a slave said...

that song is beautiful! oof made me cry.

I read this today which goes along with what you're saying:

"If the Father gave His Son a Cross and the Mother a sword, then somehow sorrow does fit into the Divine plan of life. If Divine Innocence and His Mother...both underwent agonies, it cannot be that life is a snare and a mockery, but rather it is made clear that love and sorrow often go together in this life and that only in the next life is sorrow left behind.

The world is not shocked at seeing love and sorrow linked arm in arm when love is not perfect; but it is less prepared to see immaculate love and sorrow in the same company. The true Christians should not be scandalized at this, since Our Lord is described as the Man of Sorrows. He who came to this earth to bear a cross might conceivably drag it through His Mother's heart. Scripture suggests that He schooled and disciplined her in sorrow...only to reveal at the very end that what He was doing was introducing her through sorrow to a new and deeper dimension of love."