I’ve already started marking out my dreamy goals for the future year. I’m already getting wildly excited and crazy hopeful and I’m ready. Bring on January! Forget the frost and the let-down from Christmas-craze and the drop in our spirits as we dim the lights, turn them down and off for another year, wind them back into a knot and shove them up into the attic. The winter is here and we’re warm now. We have the bright gifts, the glowing lights, the holiday cheer ringing loud like the Salvation Army bells outside of every shopping center.
But we know the drop, the drooped spirit, the draped hope, is coming.
You can feel it. That nudge to despair. Just a little. To think that the new year is coming and it’s tied tight with possibility, but to feel that once Christmas is over that it’s all over. That once we stop singing the age-old Christmas hymns and carols and theme songs, that it will just feel all white and gray and drab. That we’ll suddenly realize the cold snow heaped up over the curb, over the earth, over our own shoulders... and we’ll freeze. We’re all thawed, hot chocolate in a mug between our little hands, but that’s now. Pre-Christmas. Pre-January. Pre-boring, frozen, limited winter.
The truth, though, of Christmas is that yes, a Savior came. The One. That He wrapped Himself tiny and broken in a stretch of skin that He scientifically designed for you. That coat of cells and vessels and a frame of lungs and hearts and vocal chords, He made a coat of many colors for you. Put it on your plain, white bones. Made you to love, to be loved.
And then, because we just couldn’t get it, because we’re slow learners, simple, proud... He came tiny and small, rounded in the miracle of pregnancy and birth. Bones pliable, smartly designed to curl within for 9 months and then to unfurl into newborn stretches and yawns, arms overhead, asleep.
We couldn’t see that all we were was perfect in His eyes. We had to go and change it. Test it. Taste it. We had to be convinced that our natural God-breathed state didn’t feel like enough. We were made to feel ashamed. Lacking. And so we cover, cover, cover up. In a million ways, all day long, every year. Funny how we buy clothes to be hidden, but at the same time, to be seen. We always want to be seen. Found. Maybe because that’s what our story with Him has been. We started out all-known, all-seen, all-uncovered. Barefoot, naked shoulders, eyes filled with zero anxiety, fear, depression, loneliness, past harms. We stood beautifully clothed in nothing but everything He gave. Once.
We always think the trappings are where it’s at.
Over and over this Advent I have told my three-year-old that it’s about Jesus. In every natural way that God has brought along, I have told him. Why do we have gifts? Because Jesus is the greatest gift! Why do we put lights everywhere, on every tree, in every window, along the fringes of every old brick building on Main Street? Because He is the light in our darkness! Never fear, He is the glow that can be found when it’s all pitch. Over and over: it’s about Jesus, it’s about Him saving us, it’s why Mommy was baptized, it’s why there are crosses on churches, why we sing, why we give gifts, why we say thank you, thank you, thank you.
And December is almost done. My Advent devotional has almost all the pages used up. January is coming and I’ve started on my lists, my goals, my ideas. I’ve been getting excited, been getting hopeful, pumped up, encouraged. But I can still feel it. There against my tired edges, that whispered voice that it’s all going to fail, that I won’t get to where I’m going, that my coat of many colors that my Father put on my shoulders is going to be laughed at, misunderstood, taken away.
We go so quickly from the wonder of Christmas, the gift of the Messiah in a manger, singing loud and with tears streaming about a holy night, about joy to this world, of loud and high hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah’s! For a moment we see it. We embrace Him as our light in our darkness and then we skid to a stop as January first comes, vacation days fade and it’s back to “life as we know it”, back to the desk, the labor, the early mornings, the midnight feedings, the illnesses, the deadlines, back comes the anxiety, the depression.
Out come our counterfeit robes.
The baby in the stable filled with hay was not the end of the story. That baby grew up. That baby learned to walk and then drug our sin up to a hill. That baby learned to stand tall and raise His arms to His mother to be held, and then He stretched out His arms to take us all in. That baby learned to eat solid foods and then He gave us bread and wine and then broke His body so that we would never be soul-hungry again. He learned to speak, so that He could tell us that we are loved so much that we should love each other. That baby learned to listen and obey, so that He could hear us every time, but more, hear and follow His Father’s will to any boat, to any cliff, to any cross.
It’s just a new year that’s coming. It’s just another in a string of days. And even though New Year’s resolutions have us feeling wild and hopeful, our tasks looking possible and likely, the truth is that Christmas is not about leading into a New Year.
It’s about leading into a New Life.
That is why He came. He didn’t come to give us a ten-step program on how to be successful or brave or heard. He didn’t come to make us smart or beautiful or talented. He didn’t wrap Himself up and put himself under the shadow of The Tree so that we could just have a new soundtrack for another year. He came because life as we knew it was dark and tinged with everything wrong, everything His Father had never intended for us. So the Son got wrapped up tight into an infant ball of promise and was birthed into our nasty, selfish, every-man-for-himself world because we needed saving. We desperately needed love to come down. We needed finding, we needed hope, we needed to know our own skin is not enough if it’s not filled up, head to toe, with the beating love of Christ.
And that’s the promise we have on this eve before Christmas Day. We have the promise that when all the gifts have been parceled out and all the paper packages wrapped with string have been untied, the trappings all torn and discarded... there in the heap, we see it. As we gather armfuls of shredded holiday paper, brightly colored shards, that’s when we have to stop. We’re kneeling, gathering the shrouds of gifts given... and we throw it away.
You have to throw away the outer to accept the inner gifts.
You have to strip the box down. You have to un-bag every promise. You have to sit at the foot of The Tree and look up so high up and then, “Move higher, friend.” (ref. Luke 14:10). With the gifts laid bare before you, the outer coats of what was a previously wrapped perfect present... take that outer coat, that thin paper, that nothingness that is only seeming beauty and perfect of coordinating wrapping and bow... and shove it deep into a black bag and haul it to the curb. Take every lie, every needle of perfection and punch it deep into the dark. You have to get through all the layers to find the gift. You have to unveil yourself in His presence to see what He has truly done by coming so far, so simple, so lowly on a silent night.
There. Right there. Life.
A newborn heart beating wild for you, living for you, born and growing up to die for you. Not because we've been found worthy, but because we have been found loved. Because we've been meticulously created, designed, coated. Because we've been wrapped up in a story that's bigger and greater than any fairytale, because we have been included in His-story. We aren't bright and beautiful, but He is. We aren't flashy or thrilling, but we're adored.
Grace upon grace, came down.
And continues to rain like the light from a northern star.
"I came that they may have life
and have it abundantly."
~ J o h n 1 0 : 1 0 b