The unexpected gift of a 2020 Christmas

My sweet girls blue eyes flicker open as she lays quiet and content in my arms; belly full, and warm against my chest. Her gaze is fixed towards the soft glow of Christmas lights upon our tree, shining like glittering stars in the dark. She watches intently and sighs deep. I hold her tight and follow her gaze to our softly lit tree. I so often forget to fix my eyes on the beauty of light that shines brightest in darkness.

And tonight? Two planets will align closer than they have in centuries and will appear to our eyes in the sky as a single bright star, the ‘Christmas Star,’ shining gloriously in the dark.

A couple thousand years ago in the quiet dark of a Bethlehem stable, a teenage girl also with new babe in arms cast her gaze upon a shining light burning brightly in the night, very possibly the same bright “star,” glimmering hope and wonder that will grace the backdrop of the dark sky of our world tonight.

That first Christmas God slipped unbeknownst, into the world He formed by the words of His mouth and the love of His heart, to all except the loving arms of a young girl and the bright glow of two planets colliding in the night.

Mary’s journey to that stable and holding ‘Immanuel’ in her young and uncertain arms had likely been a difficult and lonely road. Ever since she had softly spoken those words of faith, “let it be to me as you have said,” to the angel adorned in light and whispering words of invitation to be a dwelling place for God, her life had changed forever.

With a growing womb and a heart pregnant with joy, Mary carried within her the long awaited Immanuel. Yet, instead of being met with awe and celebration, Mary’s growing abdomen was met with hushed silence, disapproving sneers, and headshaking unbelief. So Mary departed and left for the home of Elizabeth, the one other person who would rejoice quietly with her, her own womb leaping for joy at the coming of God.

And when the time came for “God with us” to dwell in flesh among us, Mary found herself on a dusty road to Bethlehem. Far from home. Far from familiar. Far from comfortable.
And yet it was here that Immanuel came.
In a dusty stable, on a bed of straw.
In the midst of Mary’s uncertainty, and pain.
In the dark and quiet of a night lit with the glowing presence of the brightest of stars.
Right in the middle of the dark He came and dwelled among us.
With us.
Clothed in our frailty, swaddled in our griefs, and held in our morality.
Immanuel came. Our light in the greatest of darkness.

All of the Christmas’s in my lifetime have been a time of celebrating in a flurry of activity and glittering light. City squares burst with colour and evergreens are dressed with tinsel and lit with a twinkling glow. Shopping malls are festooned with brilliantly lit displays of sparkle and lustre and cars are filled with the melodies of Christmas as we go from one event to the next. Our homes are garnished with garland and candles, stockings and presents, and then filled with the people we hold most dear to feast and to celebrate. 

Sitting here in the soft glow of our tree, I ponder how very different this Christmas will be.

There hasn’t been the same flurry of celebration this year.
No parties to go to, or family dinners to prepare for.
No concerts to attend or choirs to be apart of.
No travel plans to confirm, or preparations to be made for visitors.
(And Amazon shopping feels far less festive than going in and out of shops that are bustling with people, furbished in red and green, and playing Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You” for the 100th time this season.)

Oh, I have let the tears flow freely as I have grieved what has been lost this Christmas.
And as I hold my newborn tight in my arms, I am well aware of the reality that most of those we love and hold dear have barely had the chance to meet this sweet babe let alone hold her in their own arms and welcome her into this strange world we find ourselves in this 2020.

After tears have fallen and prayers are released unto heaven, I cant help but hear the hush of a Holy whisper; an invitation this Christmas to cast my gaze upon the light of that one glowing star.
Because out of all the Christmas’s that I have experienced, this one just might be the one that most resembles that very first Christmas. When God Himself came as gift to us in the dark and quiet of a lowly manger, vacant of festive celebration or carols, large gatherings or candle lit services, feasts, stockings, or presents. ‘God with Us’ was born into the arms of a teenage girl gazing up at a star ablaze in the dark of night.

And here and now?
Could it be that where darkness resides closely, where our uncertainty has become a familiar companion, where our feet are covered in the dust from this unfamiliar road of 2020 that we have all tread upon… together… and yet very much alone, that a Holy invitation is being whispered for those that would lean in close, listen, and look to the light that shines brightest in the dark?
An invitation ushering us to be the dwelling place of God.

This Christmas, there is very real heartbreak that we face.
We face the heartbreak of empty homes and empty churches, the pain of losses felt this past year and the uncertainty of all our tomorrows.
We will be tempted to sit in despair, to ruminate on loss, and to make our home in the dark.
We will be tempted to “get through,” “keep busy,” and “hustle head down” right through these holy days so we don’t have to feel the hurt with our whole hearts.

But what if leaning into the discomfort and darkness of this Christmas can usher in glorious light?
For the Light of the World shines bright in the dark and beckons us to respond unreservedly “Let it be unto me,” as Mary did, that He might fill all the empty and broken places with all the fullness of God.

Could this year, without the flurry of busyness that can have us running ragged through the Christmas season be a gift of grace to us as we finish off 2020?

Most years as Christmas celebrations wane, I am left exhausted and worn from the busyness, wondering how that first Christmas in a dusty stable has turned into the glitz and glitter of the commercial holiday celebrated today, and how my heart more years than not, can more closely resemble the heart of the inn keeper in Bethlehem, rather than that of Mary, having no room to welcome in the long awaited King of Kings.

After we have grieved the Christmas that we have lost this year, could we receive the one we have been given to us as a gift?

A gift to enter the sacred space that resembles that first Christmas, maybe more so than any other Christmas we have known.
A Christmas that invites us to lean into the quiet, dark, lowly places of our hearts where the King of Kings long to make His home.

Beloved one, can you hear the hushed whisper of invitation swirling around you right now? Can you see the flicker of hope and wonder of it? Feel the warmth of it like a candle aglow in the dark? 

Immanuel is here.
God is with us.
And our unreserved yes?
It ushers His love and presence right into the midst of our empty and dark and invites our gaze to the light of One glowing star that is ablaze with hope and will change our lives forever if we would just choose to look up.

Merry Christmas sweet friends.
May this one forever change your heart.

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