This weekend we began the observance of Advent. The Coming. I heard a lot of teaching and songs about getting ready, preparing ourselves. My mind wanders back to a cold December night in Oswego, NY. I scrape frost from the window and watch snow falling in the street light. A white Christmas must make it better, at least that what the songs says–dreaming of it. And sleighs can’t be jingling their bells that make everyone happy unless there is snow to slide on. But when I drop the curtain and return to wrapping gifts, I wonder what I can do. How do I prepare enough to make Christmas right? To keep us all safe?
We are one-less this Christmas, though his name is never spoken. Mac’s stocking is missing when we unpack the ornaments and decorations. My three-year-old brother, who drowned last summer, loved everyone. He always sang “Jesus Loves Me” while he played. He begged us to sit in the front pew in church so he could greet Jesus (and sing with gusto, though his hymnal was upside down and he was one syllable behind the choir). What did Mac do wrong?
In my ten-year-old mind, if we please God, then good things happen to us. So if bad things happen, we must be doing something wrong.
What did I do wrong?
And what can I do this Christmas to get the baby back in the manger?
It has taken many decades to purge my thoughts of the lies about being able to do it all right, and make it all right.
But it is easy to slide back into polish-yourself-up-and-get-presentable thinking.
When you hear, “Prepare the way,” do you go there, too, either by decorating beautifully, or baking up a storm, trying to create the magic that we wish is Christmas? Or buying the best gifts ever? Singing fantastic Christmas music, or decorating the church, or taking food to the poor? By being nice when you want to curse or helping someone you might usually ignore? Maybe you even read the Bible more or go to church when you don’t feel like it?
We have a million different ways to try to pave our way to the manger.
Or perhaps you shy from the light, feeling you don’t deserve to go in there, where candles flicker, and “Come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” drifts out the open door?
Maybe you are the one closest to the truth.
We don’t deserve to creep up the manger.
We don’t deserve a Redeemer.
We don’t deserve Abundant Life.
It’s all a gift.
Once again, I go to my favorite prophet, Isaiah, who calls to us from the very distant past.
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am GOD, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you…That’s how much you mean to me! That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you. “So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.
Isaiah 43 2-5 MSG
Reassured, I flip forward, spanning centuries, and land on the book written by the youngest follower of Jesus, John. He called himself the one Jesus loved.
How loved he must have felt to write that!
Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light…whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.
John 1:3-4,9,12 MSG
Tonight, I’ll our Advent candle in peace, knowing I can’t, and don’t have to make myself, my home, my family, my writing — anything perfect for Christmas. I can give up trying to make everything right (again).
I don’t need to try to be the savior.
He came as an infant over 2,000 years ago, and made the way for us that we could never reach on our own.
That’s why those angels were singing!
I think I’ll hum along.