In Jesus our God “became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.”
If you know me then you’ve probably heard me say this before, but if my mom were to ever cheat on my dad I’m pretty darn sure it would be with Santa Clause.
One look inside her house at Christmas time and you’d think she’d already flown the coop to be with her other true love. This is to say my mom has eye, and a heart, for Christmas. And if she had her druthers, every day would be Christmas Day. And I think we could all learn something from her.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized all our family vacations shared something in common. Each destination had been cleverly mapped out around a Christmas superstore. We learned early on to pack clothes you were willing to lose because there was always the chance that someone’s suitcase would have to be sacrificed if Mom found a killer deal on Christmas decorations.
I wouldn’t be too far off the mark to say my mom has over 50,000 ornaments in her house, give or take a few thousand. They come from all around the world, from the people they have visited and the places they have traveled too. I like to believe that in that collection you will find endless stories about who my parents are and the way they see life.
This year, Kathleen chose to decorate our tree using ornaments that we’ve picked up in the various places we’ve been. One of the joys we get from decorating the tree is that it helps us to recall cheerished memories of our past that somehow get lost in the busyness of life. For example, the hanging the leather moose ornament somehow takes us back to a time before kids when Kathleen, armed only with a video camera, came face to face with a great Alaskan moose.
So many ornaments, and so many stories; each one worthy of hanging on the Christmas tree because each one connects us to the great Christmas story where in Jesus our God “became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.” “Full of grace and truth,” Jesus showed us how to truly live this great adventure called life.
Yet in the celebrations and trappings of Christmas, it’s easy to overlook the meaning behind his great story.
Eventually, we will take down our tree, and put away the wreath, the stockings, and all our decorations, and return to that busyness of raising a family, looking for work, and intentionally walking with Christ. This last one especially requires a little bit more than just my faith in God. I have to keep the Christmas story alive in all that I do.
Thus there’s one particular decoration that we keep out all year long to remind us to make every day a real Christmas Day.
The story behind this hunk of wood is worthy of being a Macdonald family heirloom. It came to us in 2001, while on vacation in Costa Rica with my parents.
It was two fun filled weeks relaxing on sandy beaches; hiking in the rain forests; swimming in volcano heated springs; visiting coffee farms, and yes, making the occasional stop at the local Christmas shops that just so happened to be located in the same places we were staying for the night.
So here we are, in a small village that had only one restaurant and one hotel. But don’t you know it…there was a place to buy Christmas ornaments! Granted, this place was nothing like the ones filled with tacky, glittery, touristy trinkets. This one, dare I say, was magical.
Specializing in hand-carved crafts made from local exotic woods, it was like stumbling into the secret part of Santa’s workshop where the artisans and master crafters designed new toys, and hand-carved them for their boss’ wink of approval. One such craftsman specialized in carving individual nativity scenes out of chunks of old coffee roots.
It’s not your typical holiday ornament. With a quick glance you might not even recognize it as a nativity scene. In fact, as it sits on our piano in the living room, it is often mistaken for a piece of art.
It wasn’t our intention to leave it out all the time, but for some reason it never felt right to pack it up with the blinking Christmas lights and plastic garland. As such, this uncommon nativity scene helps me see what I need to see every day – a glimpse into God’s heart.
Here is the little baby Jesus welcoming me with open arms. His heart exposed to the heavens has made him vulnerable to the attack of a hateful world that He will overcome without lifting a sword or firing a shot, but by the freely giving of his divine love.
From the time of his birth, this Jesus, our Emmanuel – the God who is with us – calls us into his arms and claims us worthy and righteous no matter what we’ve done.
That’s the great Christmas gift. This nativity, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “is the central event in the history of the earth, the very thing the whole story has been about.”
Each one of us has a Christmas story to tell. Whether it’s told through a family ornament, or recalled with deep painful memories, your story and my story are intimately tied to the story of this small Christ child; the one God gave us out of great love for us, “so whoever believes in him should not parish but have eternal life.”
Jesus’ story is the great reminder that God loves you so much that he would do anything to be with you. He came into this world on human terms. He experienced our human pain and doubt. Felt human betrayal, hatred, and rejection. Just for you.
Despite all the worse that human beings could muster up, Jesus continued to show nothing less than perfect love and remained faithful to God… to prove to us that doing God’s will daily, can and will transform real darkness into true light. This is the power of God’s love for us, and the real meaning of Christmas; the story we often forget once the decorations are boxed up and stored away.
Just as a dried up root from a dead coffee plant can become a living story or a beautiful work of art, so too can we be transformed and made anew by the one whose arms are open, calling us home.
A Nativity might look oddly out of place in the summer time, but the essence of Christmas, does not need a crèche, shepherds, or angels anymore than it needs red bows, piles of gifts, or roast beef with all the trimmings. It only needs you, and me. Through Christ we become the Christmas present. And through us Christmas happens every day. And so, it is time now, writes Howard Thurman, for the work of Christmas to begin. Go and make your story come alive.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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