As I sat half hanging off of the crowded pew Christmas Eve, in a seat I would not have chosen (despite getting to the church 40 minutes early!), I tried to put myself in the presence of God and reflect on the meaning of this holy day. You see, during the last two weeks of Advent I had become quite the scrooge. Not even my beloved holiday music could snap me out of it. As I was getting ready to head out to mass I found myself saying, “I want more time! I’m not in the holiday spirit yet!” Instead of being full of joy and hope, I found myself sick, frustrated, anxious about a few things, confused about a few things, and longing for things I was quite certain I wouldn’t be “getting” this year. As I entered the sanctuary, I was craving a peaceful, meaningful, inspiring liturgy. That wasn’t exactly what I got. :)
Instead of silence before Mass there was a rather comical children’s nativity play. When Mary took baby Jesus (a doll) into her arms out of the manger, she did so by grabbing him by the head (palming it in her hand like a basketball player would the ball). Awkward. I laughed out loud. Three of the shepherd boys got bored part way through. Two began throwing the stuffed sheep they were holding in the air, while the third was flailing his about holding it by the tail. Again, I laughed. There was also a small boy dressed up like a star who stood on a step stool behind the manger scene. At one point, he began swaying to the music a bit too enthusiastically and lost his balance. We all gasped, then laughed as he steadied himself back to safety.
Mass itself was, well, interesting. There was an elderly couple next to us who could not get situated and were moving about. They talked loudly much of the time and then doled out candy to one of the grand kids half way through. The priest had an accent I couldn’t navigate (or hear over the couple!), there was a strange interruption during the creed, the cantor’s microphone was barely audible, and there was a crying baby nearby. I have never in my life so earnestly meant the words “Peace be with you” then when I turned to my mom during the sign of peace! The evening had been anything but peaceful. We are all imperfect human beings and when we come together in that great a number . . . well, that is a lot of imperfection!
Cataloguing in my mind (as I just did above) all that had gone awry I kept thinking, “Why in the world would Jesus willingly enter into this mess!?” The answer? Because He loves us. And He desires for us to know that love.
We often imagine Christ’s first coming as one of peaceful joy and stillness: a bright star, gentle Mary, sleeping child, angels singing. But I suspect it was not all smiles and loving gazes. An anxious young first time mother, a scurrying-to-provide father, a dark night, a damp cold place, smelly animals, a crying baby, so many unknowns, numerous questions, no worldly comforts, no familial or communal support, and one serious lack of sleep. It is into this uncertainty and into this mess that the Christ child came. Why? Because He loves us. He loves us enough to enter into our mess and to transform us.
Notice I said transform “us”. Christ’s coming does not always transform our circumstances. It won’t instantly answer all questions or ease our pain. It won’t necessarily cure illnesses or eradicate frustrations. It certainly didn’t shush the couple next to us in mass or enable me to decipher the priest’s homily! However, Christ’s coming can transform us. It can enable us to bear our illnesses, be patient in uncertainty, trust despite anxiety, accept imperfection, navigate the unexpected, and welcome the unsolicited happenings of life. This is why Christ came: that we may know and experience His transforming love.
Entering the church last night, I wanted a blissfully joyful Christmas without sickness, frustration, anxiety, confusion, longing, chatty pew mates or language barriers. But what I got was something better. Not a serenely prayerful couple of hours, by no means! But an encounter with Christ and the much needed reminder that He is with us amidst the mayhem of life.
So this Christmas season (which has only just begun!) may we strive to welcome Christ into our imperfect lives. Don’t wait for peaceful, serene moments to be mindful of Him. Welcome Him into the dark, damp, lonely, stinky, anxious, exhausted nativity scene of your own life. And let Him transform you.
He loves you. He longs for you to know His love. Welcome Him in!