Let Every Heart

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.

breakfast

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.

fisher-price-nativity-set-2327358-01

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.)

st-lukes-church
St. Luke’s

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.”

Anne

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

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Comments

  1. Thank you for this, Laura. Our tree is NOT up yet and we just got a new puppy, who needs much of our attention. I keep waiting for life to be “normal” enough for me to clean my house let alone decorate it! (Priming myself for a last-minute cramming session I’m afraid!) Your words have caught me and stilled my own scampering soul. Many thanks!

  2. I needed this. How easy it is to do, do, do, subconsciously placing our hope in the doing rather than the grace we are given. I am treasuring the process of learning the balance this year: using the DOING not as a means of making myself worthy but simply of making myself ready. DOING–with my eyes to the sky, crying, “Baby Jesus, where are you?” instead of having my head bent over a book for the sake of fitting in some Advent reading this year. I am finding grace where I least expect it these days–in our glad little Christmas tree, yes, but also in the endless piles of dishes and in the painful glory of relationships. And that is where Jesus opens my heart, where its valleys are exalted and the way is made straight and level for the coming of the King. Come, come, come Lord Jesus!

    1. Well said, Jessika. I needed your comment! Yes, grace in the dish pile and in “the painful glory of relationships.” So easy to forget! ~ Laura

  3. Hello Laura,
    I’m a long time reader of Lanier’s blog and I’m enjoying this opportunity to get to know you.

    Dear Sadie. Her question, “Baby Jesus, where are you?” might turn out to be the most profound one of the season. Anyone of us might ask it of ourselves when caught up in the hustle and bustle of annual Christmas preparations, or in the malls with nary a nativity in sight, but for those suffering inexplicable sorrow in the midst of the Christmas season, it also expresses something of the aching longing of Advent – “You came to bring peace, you are the Hope of all the years – ‘Baby Jesus, where are you?'”

    I wanted you to know your sweet girl (unknowingly) articulated something very special. She was a gift to a stranger tonight. I wish there was a way to tell her – I imagine that’s not possible but I hope it will mean something to you to know that God has used her in this way.

  4. Oh my goodness, my heart skipped a beat when I saw the picture of St. Luke’s! That church is so dear to me, but not because I ever attended services there. I actually spent several wonderful years there in a weekly “mommy and me” music class when my children were young. Those were such sweet times, and I have so many warm and wonderful memories of time with my children in that building. The teacher eventually decided to move the class to another space, and I cried through the melody of the last song of the last class in that familiar fellowship hall. Aaaahhh…getting teary now….

    The church is just a mile or two from my home, and sometimes when I’m feeling nostalgic, I drive by there and let myself be wistful for a moment. My children are just 12, 10, and 8, so it hasn’t really been *that* long, but it feels like a different lifetime.

    I realize that St. Luke’s wasn’t the point of your post, but thanks for indulging me by allowing me to reminisce (and gush) about my memories there!

    1. Keri — This is when I actually LOVE the Internet — when I can connect with someone with a mutual fondness for something. I was actually married at St. Luke’s! It is indeed a special spot. Many memories of breakfasts in the fellowship hall, the first place this (former?) Yankee ever heard of or tasted grits. Christmas Eve is gorgeous — the choir is the little choir that could. St. Luke’s is also where I first heard (that I remember) my all-time favorite carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” On the stained glass windows running up the sides of the sanctuary the Altar Guild ladies hung enormous wreaths they made each year with fresh cedar and over-sized silk red ribbon. On the stone windowsills underneath were votives and magnolia leaves. Sometimes my family went to the early service (when my children were small), which was charming with its live nativity. Before kids, we went to the 11 p.m. service, where the music was all-out. Glad you could experience a taste of St. Luke’s. Perhaps you live in Anchorage? One of the prettiest “neighborhoods” in the world.

      1. Thank you for this description of the Christmas Eve service — it DOES sound sublime. I had to giggle at the thought of the little choir that could. I can just picture them singing their hearts out! And the wreaths, the votives, the magnolia leaves….aaaahhhh. I’ll add this vicarious memory of St. Luke’s to my own real ones! I wish I lived in beautiful Anchorage, but I live in a more modest neighborhood nearby. I do use Anchorage as my “cut-through” as often as is practical. 😉

        And it just so happens that “In the Bleak Midwinter” is my favorite carol too, so imagining it being sung in St. Luke’s on Christmas Eve makes my heart happy! I’m sure things have changed since your experiences there, but perhaps one of these Christmas Eves when my children are old enough to stay up late, we’ll attend the 11:00 service and experience it firsthand.

  5. I meant to add that I always suspected that Christmas Eve at St. Luke’s was sublime, as you describe it. There’s just something magical about a church that’s as beautiful as that. If you’re ever inclined, I’d love to hear more about the Christmas Eve experiences in a future post (if you can do so without comparing). 😉

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