On Wisemen and Shepherds
We are usually all over the Christmasifying of our abode, but the last two months have been a little crazy here. Today I find myself unpacking from a week of travel, living with a half hung garland messily wrapped around the banister and a candle-less advent wreath, that, truthfully, we’ve only used once. And this year it hasn’t really mattered. The conversations in our home and the meditations of this heart have been centered around the manger, and I’m honestly considering just throwing a string of white lights on the Ficus and calling it done.
And I’m thinking, in the midst of this mixed up house here, where fall leaves and jingle bells linger together and bristle the lines of separate but equal seasonal decor, that sometimes we work real hard to get it all right, to celebrate correctly, to make everything count and mean something.
I grew up in a home where Christmas was celebrated lavishly. The sheer quantity of gifts and cookies (I’m talking dozens of dozens!) and people through our doors during all those merry years drove memories deep, spoke right to the heart of the beauty of lavish love, extravagant giving, warm hospitality. And I remember the prodigal’s father, offering all he had to celebrate, and of heart of a woman who offered an extravagant gift at Jesus’ feet, of her costly worship. I think of three wise souls, waiting and watchful for the new King coming, who searched far and labored hard and brought costly gifts, and of how in our home, our gifts (both material and those of time and energy) were expressions both costly and beautiful, to celebrate His coming.
When we visit my in-laws, I fall in love with the simple ways they gather around a tree, and the hymns and carols spring up, laughter roars, time goes slow, small gifts exchanged here and there, last year the gift of goat, given to a family whose names we’ll never know. There is intentionality and focus, a centering down. And the heart of it all reminds me of the shepherds, confronted with glory come down right in the midst of them, leaving their flocks and entering in to the very presence of the Humble King, and this is how we celebrate together.
As we seek to raise our children now, to sojourn through this life with grace and integrity, the pendulum has swung back and forth in my heart. And I have held high the ideals of simplicity and scoffed at lavish expressions like a grace grinch, not recognizing the way those very gifts have shaped me. And I have longed for a formula, some simple solution to take all the magnitude of the Word Made Flesh and translate it flawlessly into Pinterest-worthy crafts and activities, that drive home the fullness of God into gingerbread and Advent readings. And it sounds ridiculous when I write it out here, but, really this is what I’ve wanted.
And something cracks open in me when my sister says it: when she tells me they’re going big this Christmas, letting go of the limiting of gifts and attempts to make small something that bursts big with celebration in their hearts. I sense that lavish love longing to pour out, to make memories and teach truth by living it out well, full of joy.
And its a beautiful thing that there is no formula to celebrate a perfect Christmas. My sister, she tells me straight, that there was a time when high holy days were laid out in stone, and directions were clear, and not one could keep that law perfectly. And that is why we celebrate the God made Flesh coming to fulfill what we couldn’t.
And you can make fourteen dozen cookies and welcome neighbors and family and strangers into your well-prepared homes, and it can be all for your glory or desperately, beautifully for His. And you can buy all the fair trade gifts or give only to those in grave need, and store up judgement and anger in your heart at those who fail to see the need, or you can do the same in humility and forbearance, moved by compassion and the leading of His Spirit. And the externals, the giving gifts and making ready, it can all be an act of pride or it can all be graceful whisper of humble worship.
Because the Word Made Flesh looks at the heart, and meets us in our mangers and messy stables. And we can worship with extravagance and we can worship in hidden humility, and the Spirit who divides bone and marrow will quiet us with His love, bring us to repentance, and offer us the gift of coming before Him this Christmas, just as we are, when we come.
This Christmas, I am comforted that I serve this Humble King who came down low in a manger, who gave both wise men and shepherds value, and welcomed them into His presence. O, come, let us adore Him.