How was your Christmas?
My father used to ask me that question every Christmas night as he tucked me in. It made me nervous; I was never sure what he meant. Was he asking if I liked my presents, I wondered, or if there were there enough presents? Was he asking if I appreciated him?
My father was a frugal man. Touching the thermostat was the deadliest sin you could commit in our house —and we lived in Arizona, where it was a constant temptation. He worked 6 days a week running a saddle shop and took maybe 3 vacations his entire life.
But at Christmas, my father cracked open the coffers. December for my father was about magic and excess, about showing his love for his children by displaying an almost telepathic ability to buy the perfect gift. There was a lot of love at Christmas, but we weren’t religious. Christmas was not about Jesus.
By the time I had my own children, I knew Jesus. I knew the story that started with the Angel Gabriel and ended with the flight into Egypt and I believed. Still, Christmas remained about surprise and wonder, and children tugging us downstairs at 5 am.
Then suddenly, one Advent, everything changed.
I woke up, and all I could think about was the nativity; the birth of Jesus, the earthy smells of the stable, the heaving breath of oxen and the wooly warmth of sheep. I thought of Mary and Joseph, tentative new parents, Joseph nervously tending to Mary, while she recovered from childbirth.
This particular Advent, it was as if I couldn’t see this world’s shimmer and sparkle. Instead, my mind was held in a constant awareness of what today’s gospel declares, “The true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.”
I still went through the motions, bought more gifts than I should have, wrapped presents, sent my husband out to teeter on a ladder stringing the lights on the house and reminded my children that Santa was watching them.
All while my heart beat with the thought, “God became a little baby.” I fell asleep
mesmerized by it, and woke thinking about it, “He became a baby!” I learned in my body what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 16, “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.”
The Lord of heaven and earth, who laid out the pattern of the stars, surrendered Himself to sweet, helpless, newborn fragility.
Those of you who are parents know what this means. You might remember facing that particular terror when you took your first baby home. Remember that? I remember thinking, “This seems like a lot more responsibility than I signed up for.” All our poor firstborn babies, who had to endure us, their fledgling parents.
He through whom the world came into being chose to endure Mary and Joseph’s fledgling parenthood.
The Prince of Peace was born—helpless—into a narrative where a tyrannical king sent soldiers with swords and clubs, sweeping through the towns and villages murdering every infant boy under three. Fleeing this persecution, Mary and Joseph scooped up the God of the universe and escaped with Him into Egypt. This is the vulnerability God chose.
GOD, the father of lights, surrendered everything to enter into this life.
Jesus began his ministry not after his baptism or at age 13 in the Temple, but from his infancy in the manger, revealing to us the divine attributes of SURRENDER and HUMILITY. These are qualities integral to another holy day we observe— Good Friday.
The virtues of surrender and humility bookend Jesus’ life on earth. These are the virtues which made it possible for God to reveal to us His image at his birth and to reveal how much He loves us at His death. We won’t see glory, majesty and power, shimmer and sparkle, until Easter Sunday.
The God of Israel to whom the psalmist prayed, laid cooing in a manger. It was inconceivable. But here we are, still celebrating his birth, celebrating that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
The Greek word used here for dwelt is important: it means, “to dwell in a tent.” God pitched a tent in in his creation to be among us. God promised in Leviticus, “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you.”
And the Psalms tell us, “For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place. . . This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.”
And the Lord promised in Ezekiel, “My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
This is what we celebrate these 12 days of Christmas: The presence of the invisible God has been made visible in Jesus Christ. All who receive him, who believe in his name, he [gives] power to become children of God.
Have you received him? Do you believe in his name?
I had a professor in college—an Opus Dei Catholic– who taught me the prayer, “Lord, I believe, please help my unbelief.” At the time, this prayer seemed a waste of breath. Why pray for belief in what I already believe? I was a new Christian, and thought, I’ve got this. What else is there?
Until that Advent, of course, when it was as if I heard the Christmas story for the first time, as if I met Jesus for the first time.
Christ is a real presence dwelling among us, an eternal truth difficult to comprehend with our finite, created minds. If, by God’s grace, we continue to seek him, we are constantly coming to believe.
When we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come,” we are asking that the distance between our lives and God’s reality disappear.
I Corinthians 13:12 describes our transformation in Christ, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully. . .”
Was your Christmas shiny and glittering as a snow globe? Was everyone you love present, and kind to one another? Or perhaps were you grieving, lonely, broke or broken-hearted, while everyone around you seemed merry and bright,
In the next few months, the remote-control cars will stop working. The new books will get shoved into the shelves with the old books. Important parts of the Lego set will disappear. The art supplies will run dry. The shiny kayak won’t get used as much as we had planned.
But we have received something eternal—The Word became flesh. Our redemption has been won by a love that sacrifices everything. If we but believe. We have all received, grace upon grace, gift upon gift in the birth of Jesus Christ. Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
 John 1:9
 Lev. 26:11
 Psalm 132:18
 John 1:12
 John 1:16
 Isaiah 25:9