My tree is up! Around here, we mark tree-trimming day with great celebration. (One must make a big to-do where one can.) Before we attacked the unsuspecting Fraser fir standing in our den, the five of us kicked off a rainy weekend morning with a leisurely breakfast, followed by reading out loud from God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas.
As I sat at one end of the table and read, special needs daughter Sadie—too excited for grits or even oatmeal chocolate chip muffins—scampered about in her pajamas. I didn’t realize she was listening until Sadie stopped moving long enough to peer over my shoulder at the open book and shout: “Baby Jesus, where are you!?”
We laughed and wondered if she meant Come, thou long expected Jesus! or Hey, that reminds me—where in the heck is the plastic baby Jesus that goes with my Fisher-Price nativity set? I know it’s around here somewhere.
Sadie caused me to think: What do I want, the real Jesus or a toy version? A Christmas marked by awe at God humbling Himself to come live among us, or a holiday in which my head is swimming with things and outings and chores—and more things? The antidote for the latter, of course, is Christ. Which sounds so simple, it almost seems too simple. How do we experience Emmanuel? In God With Us, Richard John Neuhaus writes, “Forgive us our restless searching for your presence according to our expectations.”
Blasted expectations! I have a nasty habit of comparing Christmases by how I feel—as much as I mistrust making emotions the test of one’s spiritual well-being. And as much as Christmas is not about me, but about the Incarnation!
Please hear me: I cannot begin to tell you how to best bid Him come at Christmastime. But for me, this Advent I am hedging my bets with quiet—with reading and prayer and walks outdoors in the cold and more reading—in the hopes that the doors of piercing Christmas joy are thrown wide open. (I picture the tall red double doors of the dear Episcopal church, St. Luke’s in Kentucky, where my family and I spent so many Christmases—on those doors hung enormous fresh cedar wreaths adorned with fat silk ribbon that drooped with its heaviness. Christmas Eve at St. Luke’s was sublime–ah, but I’m comparing again.)
Through the years, I have learned that being still is good for my scampering soul. On the other hand, it’s funny (funny-peculiar not funny ha-ha) how sometimes precious little prep can go a long way. I remember one Christmas Eve morning in Louisville—I was home on break from my master’s program—when I woke up knowing my heart was far from ready for that night’s service or the late supper with lovely friends that would follow. In a panic, I sat in bed and read—and reread—the start of both the books of Matthew and Luke, the gospels that tell of Jesus’ birth.
Last minute cramming, graduate-school style. Thankfully, God multiplies our efforts, and the joy-doors weren’t shut in my face. To paint a funny (ha ha) picture of victory given, not earned: That night, our dinner hosts gathered us fireside for an informal game of Christmas gospel trivia. Most of the questions were along the lines of “Which gospel describes…” Heads turned as I blurted out “Matthew!” and “Luke!” correctly, again and again. How do you know all the answers? everyone demanded.
Because I cheated.
I don’t recommend this method. Not if you want to, as Anne Shirley said, “fly right up on the wings of anticipation… the flying part is glorious as long as it lasts… it’s like soaring through a sunset.”
L.M. Montgomery’s wise Anne also said, “Everything that’s worth having is some trouble.”
Not that sitting in front of my shining tree with coffee in hand and a book in the other is trouble, exactly. But—hold me to it!—I’m spending a solid month preparing Him room, hoping the doors to the profound mystery will at least be cracked…
The Darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we find a room,
To welcome Him
The nobler part
Of all the house here, is the heart. ~ Robert Herrick, 17th century poet