i do not like shopping. i do not like crowds. i do not like commercials and all of the nutty emphasis on buying stuff. and i definitely do not like cold december weather.
but i do love christmas.
i love christmas because i love the christmas story. i love the wild & crazy way God reveals himself to the world, in a way that most everyone would never expect. i love that angels announced Jesus’ birth first to the the shepherds & the pagans and they were strangely drawn toward this light from the very beginning. i love that the earthly parents God chose were basic people with basic jobs and a basic faith. i love the reminder that from the beginning of Jesus’ life, power was trying to destroy him but never fully prevails. i love that the story of Jesus is a beautiful, messy one not a clean & sterile one (even though that’s usually how the storybooks make it sound).
the christmas story wasn’t neat and tidy.
it was messy. and beautiful.
for this season of advent at the refuge we have been focusing on our stories–God’s story, our stories, and how they all intersect. on the first week of advent my friend karl shared how “every Bible story is a christmas story.” i’ll add “every one of our stories is a christmas story, too”.
here are the elements i think are present in the christmas story and in our stories, if we look carefully:
1. pain and struggle
2. something that doesn’t make sense in our own or others’ eyes
3. some kind of redemption, hope, or healing
4. a reminder that somehow, someway, God is emmanuel, always with us.
when i look at almost every Bible story i can think of, these 4 things apply. when i consider the weird twists and turns in my own story & many others along the way, these 4 things are somehow always present.
i want to focus for a minute on #2 because i think it’s the one that might give us the most trouble–“something that doesn’t make sense in our own or others’ eyes.”
we humans have a desperate need to make sense of everything. we want it to “work” the way we want it to work. we want to understand things we’re not supposed to understand. we want to cram God’s weird & wild ways into our own boxes so we can feel more comfortable. we want neater, tidier, easier.
i know i do.
but the christmas story reminds us that some things just don’t make sense in our eyes or other’s eyes. the Jesus story sure didn’t.
two contradicting things can be present at the same time.
the christmas story is beautiful & ugly. filled with faith & doubt, peace & confusion, fear & courage. these things living together don’t make sense in our linear-little-brains. but part of redeeming our story and participating in God’s story more fully requires us to open our hearts to letting both exist at the same time. and like all things of faith, this is a heart-journey, not a head-one. our brains can try to rationalize “sure, both dark and light exist in me” but still do everything in our power to clean it up and make all be good, “right” or okay or go the other direction of leaning completely into only the dark side where everything is hard & ugly & painful.
we can easily become focused on the dark & blinded to the light.
or we can do an excellent job of pretending like everything’s light and dismiss the reality of our darkness.
a lot of our church experiences haven’t helped us to live more comfortably with paradox in our own lives, either. black & white thinking has often morphed into black & white feelings, too.
we did a little exercise a few weeks ago at our weekend gathering, to open ourselves up to remember that light & dark exist at the same time in our stories–and in all of God’s stories, too. part of cultivating hope this advent season is living in the tension of both existing but straining to see the light, the good, the beautiful because these are often more difficult for us to see in ourselves.
here’s the exercise we did:
choose one word from the left hand column that describes this season for you. then choose one word from the middle column. if the words that come to mind aren’t on this list, use them instead.
right now, my story is ________ & __________.
my two words are “strong & fragile” and those usually don’t make sense together. in my humanness, i only want to be strong or i only see my fragility & weakness. the beauty of the christmas story in me is seeing that both can exist at the same time, and they don’t have to make sense. and like most all of them, my story is one of pain & struggle and redemption & healing & God-with-me-in-the-thick-of-it.
yeah, all our stories are christmas stories.
i’d love to hear what words describe your story right now.