Christmas is over, in the technical sense. What lies ahead is the excitement of discovering new space when the tree comes down, the ornaments are put away. I’ve discovered that not everything that comes out of a box actually fits back in. Kind of like trying to return a pair of jeans you wore for a day then decided you didn’t like the fit…too late. Some things seem to expand and grow and can never find their original shape. Christmas is one of those things. It is a difficult story to pack away once it has been fully unpacked. Easier for those who don’t fully grasp the infancy narrative and only pull out and celebrate the loose bits that are neat and tidy, and sound good as a children’s story.
If you read the two accounts recorded by both Matthew and Luke you soon realize there are some unsavoury bits. Portions of the story that wouldn’t translate well as a performance by 3rd graders in bathrobes and tea towels. A murderous Herod slaughtering 2 year old male children has yet to make it into a Pageant. The threatened and scared young family fleeing as refugees to a foreign land. The settling back into a new town with an old reputation, these are the parts of the story that have sharp edges and expanding pieces that don’t fit nicely back from where they came. These are events that changed those involved and desire to even change those of us separated by two centuries.
For me Christmas has two parts. The first part is that God came. This is the December 25 part. We celebrate the gift of God’s presence, our infinite value and worth. Jesus came, into our mess. The second part is that God stayed. The story didn’t seem to get better, before it got worse. God stayed for 33 years, he stayed and lived among us, with us—for us. For the most part of the 30 years or so, his life is unknown to us—but among us he remained. I have to believe that for early Christians living under such oppression and uncertainty that this second half was a very important part. A God who understands suffering, even before he was executed. This was a God who experienced the necessity of fleeing, of returning, of resettling, of building a new life with an old unsavoury rumoured past. The early quiet years of Jesus’ life remind me that God grows in our story. Even when he seems quiet, he has not left, he stays maturing a hope that will one day again break through the darkness of our circumstances. The God who came, and the God who stayed.
This Christmas I find unusual affinity to this story, especially the second part. Like Christmas, my life has been taken out of the box and it doesn’t fit back in. Over 5 months ago at the hands of a neurological disease my wife walked into a hospital emergency room and within 14 days became a Paraplegic. The devastation for her has been unreal. My words to God became words at God before they fell silent. She has spent the last 5 weeks in a rehab centre working hard at becoming as independent as she can. I have grown past the denial and am beginning to acknowledge our life doesn’t fit back in the old box. Our new life reflected in the modifications in our home, and in our souls. This Christmas was different. But it is the second half that I relate to most. Sure I celebrated that he came, but that he stayed, and endured, and overcame…thats the part that helps me.
A friend wrote this in a Christmas card to us:
It was all wrong, really.
The need to travel because of government orders,
with no place to lay a weary head.
Later the mad flight into darkness
and a new country. All wrong.
and yet…just right, if God is to move into our uncertain, homeless and violent neighbourhoods.
This year has been all wrong for you guys.
Home disrupted, a body too weary to even long for rest.
Or maybe a different rest altogether,
And Yet… we pray that this christmas and coming year you will feel the
scarred and wounded God walking with you every step of the way.
Those words written in ink had more meaning because someone else wrote them.
So as I begin to pack away much of Christmas 2014, I recognize all that will not be heading to my basement, most of which is laying unassembled with no batteries in the recesses of my soul. I am reminded that not everything goes back downstairs and gets put away.
I celebrated the God who came, and now will begin to celebrate the God who stays. My hope is that he who began a good work in us with be faithful to complete it.