Christmas 2010

This is Finn's stocking:

And this is our poor nativity set, with no baby Jesus and a broken-legged goat:

And this is why I just had to let it go: 

There were mountains to hike, babies and sheep to snuggle, and sand to dig. There were carols and candlelight, card games, and even an engagement to celebrate. There were plenty of cookies to eat, along with lefse (lefse!) and Godiva chocolates and eggnog too. And there was a Christmas story to discover again.

Madeleine L'Engle once wrote, "This is the irrational season, when love blooms bright and wild. Had Mary been filled with reason, there'd have been no room for the child."  In my case though, it wasn't reason that kept me from Jesus, it was that never-ending list. But once I finally let the list go, I could let Christmas in.

And I was strangely heartened to read that right in the story from Luke, right after the angels and the manger and all the sweet stuff our celebrations are made of, there's mention of the grief and the pain that can make Christmas so hard for some people, that can make the whole thing seem like a mockery. The old man Simeon warns Mary, after waiting his whole life for a glimpse of the messiah and finally seeing Jesus brought to the temple, that a sword will pierce her heart, that her heart will be broken because of this sweet boy child.

I don't know what is comforting about this sword, except maybe it's that we know the sword is real--that hearts get broken and babies die and far too much attention is paid to lists. And since this reality isn't conveniently glossed over in the story, it makes the story that much more real and true and life-giving. As Frederich Buechner says, before the gospel is good news, it is just news, the truth about the way things are.

I do hope that however things are in your world right now, whatever the state of your list and your heart, that some Christmas joy has broken in. It may be blazing like a winter sun after an ice storm, or may be quiet like the faded light of a winter's eve, but Zechariah foretold its arrival.

By the the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Luke 1:78-79   

Merry Christmas from Matt, Monte, Finn and Willa


Feels like Christmas

I saw an ad the other day for a mall here in Hong Kong, proclaiming it to be the place to experience a "True Christmas," on account of over 100 true Christmas trees. And of course, I scoffed, rolling my eyes at the idea that "true" Christmas is found in a mall, or in real Christmas trees, for that matter.
Until I remembered that shortly after we decorated and lit our Christmas tree (Finn's first "real" one) I thought to myself "it really feels like Christmas now."

Our Hong Kong Christmases (this is our third) have made it clear just how important the secular side of this holiday is to me, and I suspect, in fact, that most of my joy comes from cultural traditions more than the spiritual aspect. (This, in spite of the fact that we emphasize the spiritual side, observing advent, doing special advent devotions, etc.) But cookies and cards and decorations  ... it's just good. And when else in the year do we bring a whole tree inside our homes, for goodness' sake?

So anyway. I like the traditions. And I'm done with looking down on them, even when they have nothing to do with the nativity. (Well, I will look down on Porsche's advent calendar. Did you see that? Just a little obscene.)
This year our joy comes in large part to having a new baby around--watching Willa come into her personhood, and watching Finn fall in love with her.

Our joy, though, is tinged with grief--with a newly conscious and close understanding of sorrow, watching our friends watch their baby die. This feels like the first grown-up grief of our lives (or our friends' lives): No cookie-care-packages or positive attitudes will make this better. And I know that this is the point where I should say something inspirational about how the only answer to the real grief of a baby's death is the real Christmas--the baby in the manger. But though I can affirm that as true, what I believe, it's hard to make the connection right now.

Our joy also has an urgency to it, a responsibility, as if knowing how blessed we are compels us to remember it all the time. But of course, no one can live like that constantly, at least we can't. So we still get cross with Finn and tired of pacing the floor with Willa, even while crying inside for baby Jack and bracing ourselves for whatever other tragedy is waiting in the wings.

And so back to Christmas. The lines that ring in my head are from Rory Cooney's Carol of the Stranger: "Welcome tiny stranger, to hunger and frost, to armored invaders, to paradise lost."

Not very cheery I know. (And to be fair, we have Rosemary Clooney's version of Jingle Bells on repeat around here, so those words ring in my head too.)

But here's a truth I can affirm. If God didn't promise to protect us from all the bad things that can happen, God does promise God's presence with us in those bad things. And where is that presence more prominently displayed than in the form of a baby? God in flesh. Eternity trapped in mortality. A wonder, indeed.

Welcome, all Wonders in one sight!
   Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter, day in night,
   Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little One! Whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.

(Richard Crashaw)