One of my friends has so many Christmas movies in her collection, she starts watching them the day after Halloween just to get through them all. Two a weekend from November first to Christmas day she watches movies where everything looks like a disaster, but by the time Santa Clause comes to town hearts have softened, relationships have been healed, the gift that the child wished for secretly in her little heart of hearts managed to find it’s way under the tree (the adults have no idea how) and Look! (gasp) it’s snowing!
We love a good Christmas movie. It’s a Wonderful Life or The Miracle on 34th street, maybe it is A Christmas Story (You’ll shoot your eye out!), maybe it’s Elf (Candy, Candy cane, Candy corn, and syrup!). But we love a story where it all comes together in the snow dusted end. Where everyone is the very best part of themselves because, even if just for right now, it’s Christmas! A Christmas Miracle indeed.
I walk into Target shortly after Halloween and am blinded by the neon sign hanging from the ceiling “All is BRIGHT.” I blink a few times. It certainly is. Somehow they forgot the “all is calm” line that comes just before the bright part. Perhaps because calm doesn’t encourage blindly tossing pre-wrapped candles into your cart just in case you forgot someone. There is glitter everywhere, on the decorations, the sweaters, the signs from the ceiling, the purple scarf I pick out for my 7 year old niece (mostly because I am tired of her borrowing my sparkly accessories when I want to wear them). Glitter makes these things special, the signs promise. These pillows, that doormat, these things will make your house festive. Come buy the Christmas spirit!
I put a mat under the cart because my cart is full of small children. It is navy and matches the wreath I made last year that is hiding somewhere in the depths of my spare room closet. I look at the holiday throw pillows but want more than just one and at 25 dollars a piece and I can already hear my husband asking me “you spent 50 dollars on throw pillows we can only use in December?!” I see his (that I just made) point. I remember the Christmas of my youth, gingerbread houses and decorating the mantle. I just want Christmas to be special for my girls. It is easy for me to be convinced that I can buy that at Target.
A couple of weeks ago I took my girls to Disney World. The Magic Kingdom just the Peanut the Rooster and our double stroller ready to hang in the most magical place on earth. I guess not very many people attempt to take their kids to Disney World by themselves. Everywhere I went I was met with the need to have just one more set of adult hands. Meanwhile I noticed the people everywhere whose job it is to put the magic in magical. There were folks quietly moving the stroller to the “official” stroller parking when us harried parents attempted to start an unsanctioned lot, and people to sweep up the goldfish crackers as the Rooster tosses them out the side of the stroller. They even have this new way to wait in line at Dumbo (I am now an expert, I rode that ride three times in a row.) where you are given a buzzer and let your kids run around in the play place until it is your turn on the ride. Even the waiting has been whisked away.
My Nativity set is one of my most prized possessions, a wedding present from my parents that represents the rich spiritual history that was passed down to me, that I will pass forward to my children. It is beautiful. But lately, looking at it, I can’t help but think it is certainly a “Disney-fied” version of the incarnation.
I think we have claimed the birth of Jesus as the most magical story ever told, and whisked away all of the ugly parts in an effort to protect the magic. We throw on sparkle and sequence of a beautiful virgin, a silent baby, a snow kissed Bethlehem. We proclaim the scene in our imagination and shout “It’s THE Christmas Miracle!” and imagine Mary and Joseph living happily ever after. At least I am guilty of these things.
While we prefer tight packages bound up in perfectly jaunty crimson bows, the Lord does his mightiest works in the messiest places. There are gigantic messes all over the Christmas story that never fully get cleaned up. Whatever happened to Mary’s reputation? Was Joseph seen forever as a sucker probably raising another man’s baby? I’ve been through two uncomplicated births myself, and I will save you the details, but it is not a tidy process. Mary, most likely faced that alone, in a stable. We talk about the this stable like it is some beautiful place, when really there was probably animal poop everywhere and she chose this place out of complete desperation. Then there is the whole part where Herod tries to have Jesus killed and slaughters all the baby boys in the town, and Mary and Joseph take their son and run for their lives. I haven’t heard too many Christmas Eve sermons preached on the fleeing to Egypt and I have never scene a Christmas pageant where animal poop makes an appearance. But that part is there too, it just is a little too messy to be a part of the decorations on top of my entertainment center.
As I read about Advent, I discovered that the early church saw this time as less of a reflection that Jesus came as a baby, and more as a time to anticipate that Jesus is coming again. They used advent as a time to celebrate the waiting. We don’t do a great job of celebrating the waiting. I think we have taken the Dumbo ride route and whisked it away. Sure you are waiting but look, fun, fun, fun! But if the Christmas story tells us anything, it is that God’s miracles work in the midst of the very things we are trying to get rid of. This advent season I want to reflect on God’s work in the unlikeliest of places, and lean into the good gifts of advent Hope, Joy, Peace and Love, as I wait for my Savior to come back again.
In an effort to really lean into this season I will be posting on the following schedule: