How should I come to the one I love? I will find a way. - Jason GrayI have fuzzy memories of celebrating Christmas. I can vaguely remember putting together the plastic tree in the corner of our living room, decorating it with lights all ablaze and glittering baubles. I remember sneaking out at night past bedtime when all the house lights were turned off, just so I could sit on the carpeted step and gaze at the beauty of it. There was so much joy in all of us tearing open our gifts Christmas morning, exulting over them, and then running off to play with our newly acquired treasures. Though fuzzy, they were good memories.
It was when I was around ten or eleven that our family made some new friends. They were Seventh Day Adventists, and we learnt a lot from them. One of the biggest things they shared with us however, was the pagan origin of Christmas. Torn by a lot of what we had heard and studied for ourselves, the difficult decision was made to stop celebrating Christmas in our family.
For us kids, we were too young really to know what we were missing out on. The holiday didn't get a lot of fanfare in our house, and although we did celebrate it, it wasn't the be all, end all. So - we ceased with the tree and the presents, and instead celebrated my brother's birthday (and yes, he was happy to have the day all to himself).
And so it has been; for the past fifteen years. We happily celebrated my brother's birthday, and spent the lead up trying to avoid all the questions people asked us as to why we didn't celebrate Christmas.
Until my brother got married. And moved out.
This year the sudden realization dawned for us: we have no birthday to celebrate.
It was probably only two weeks before Christmas that this thought hit me. Suddenly the day did not hold any meaning for us as a family. Of course, we would see my brother and give him gifts, but the bulk of the celebration would be done in his own home, without us. The dawning came as a bit of a shock.
Deep in our hearts, there was still the desire to make the 25th of December special. It's almost like it's bred into our culture so that it runs in our veins unawares. Though we may try to escape it, something lingers... the idea that there really is something to Christmas that is worth celebrating.
I've made no bones about my staunch beliefs on Christmas. Yet throughout this particular December, I felt God whispering to my soul; whispering of things I had forgotten, or perhaps had never really heard.
It started when I received Jason Gray's Christmas album as a gift. Let me be clear: I don't listen to Christmas music. I find it is usually a crutch for popular artists, trying to scratch together another album to fob off on their fans. It would have to be a darn good album for me to listen to it, with some originality that didn't just copycat carols. If ever there was an album to convince me, this one was it. The words began to stir something in my heart—The Story. The miracle of it... the wonder and awe of just what God had begun long ago that finally arrived in that tiny stable.
I could call out her name with love through the walls / but condemnation is all she hears / I could break down the door and take her into my arms / but she might die from the fear. - Jason Gray
The next thing was when I read chapter three of Ann Voskamp's The Broken Way. The way Jesus was born into brokenness... embraced our broken, entered into our sin and shame to bear our sin and shame. He was born to die. Born to pay the debt we could not. What a remarkable, unfathomable thing—that boundless perfection would be bound by broken. The humility with which He comes and offers Himself to us: I love you. Will you love me? Will you receive me? He offers us the cup of His blood in a covenant of marriage: communion. This baby, an infant, came to rescue us, and He grew to carry us out of our broken world.
The music and the precious truths of these words poured together into my soul until the season and all of its trimmings sparkling around me began to take up the sweet murmur. What Child is this? What Love is this; that the maker of the universe and the author of all would come and reside in this sinful, dirty world? To enter in so vulnerably as a helpless infant, to scream and cry to be fed mortal food, to feel the dust on His feet, and sweat on His brow; that the hands that carved galaxies would feel the pain of blisters and callouses, and the piercing of nails? One of Jason's songs sings it, 'let the Spirit find you wherever you have been, and bring you to the Child that makes us children again'. Such beautiful words made my spirit soar.
How astounding that the only way for us to become children of God was for God to become a child Himself.
This is the miracle: that we were so loved.
Experiencing our humanity was worth it to have us, us.
We who have fallen so far, who grovel in sin and shame, and peddle immorality. We who broke things, and damaged the perfection of Creation with our rebellion and disbelief. We who hated Him who we did not know, and loved what was hateful. We—humanity—who disgraced our self, chasing after other loves as a harlot, spending all we have on that which would not satisfy; breaking the heart of our eternal Lover over and over again. This, He would enter into. This, He would choose as His bride to save. 'Long lay the world in sin and error pining 'till He appeared and the soul felt its worth'.
She gave up on love waiting for a change / but a change is coming soon / how could she not love the helpless babe / Who is waking in her womb? - Jason GrayThough it poured rain, my family attended the Christmas Eve service at church. The church was full, and the air was thick and steamy from the summer heat; thunder rumbling in the distance. There was an expectancy in the congregation; excitement, even. Anticipation shone in everyone's eyes and travelled like an electric current to everyone in the room. (must this have been what they had felt, those many years ago? Waiting for the Messiah to come?) We all sang the tried and true words of the Christmas carols at the top of our lungs, my eyes were filling with tears at the sound. (What must the sound of so many angels have sounded like!) As truth upon truth, revelation upon revelation had been filling my heart, I felt myself coming undone by this love; spilling over in overwhelming tears. I cried as the media played, proclaiming the newborn King, Jesus: Emmanuel, God with us, the hope of glory.
The next night—Christmas night—my Mum read to us:
God, divine Light, tabernacles Himself in skin and lights the darkness of men.
Jesus left the starry heavens to save us from our sins.
This day, this night —this is the time of the awed silence.
Now, a thousand thousand trees dance with light.
Now, a thousand thousand gifts carry love.
Now, at the foot of every tree, we are all only recipients of grace.
Christ, who called all things into being, gives you sun and moon and stars, the earth under you and the sky over you, and this ocean of air for every breath that fills every lung of every living thing —to you, to you, to you! We live in an ocean of grace. Gifts are our air.
And when we sinned and weren’t satisfied with what God gives, as if we refused to breathe air and died, when we longed for something different, something more, something better, He came and gave us Himself.
Am I enough?
Jesu, joy of man’s desiring.
Love birthed Himself and births us life.
I’ll take your broken heart and give you My warmed one; I’ll take your broken body and give you My fresh Spirit; I’ll take your burden-broken back and give you weightlessness.
Take Me? Let Me be your enough? Always now, no matter what —let Me be your enough.
You can have this as the best Christmas ever as much as you gaze into your Father’s face and receive His gift.
“Only He who has experienced it can believe what the love of Jesus Christ is,” whispers the pen of Bernard of Clairvaux.
A heart could burn with a love like this. — The Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp
Indeed, my heart burned (Lk, 24:32). I was being wooed and beckoned by The Story—one I thought I had known, but had never really heard. I marvelled at what Christmas truly was. How fascinating it was for me to realize that the same way people can focus entirely on the exterior of the holiday—praising the gifts, the tree, the decorations and the good cheer—and miss the whole point, I too could disregard and scorn the holiday for its pagan beginnings and materialistic rituals and miss the whole point: Jesus.
Every sin that she suffered at the hands of men / every single disgrace will be washed clean again / I will love her completely and when I am grown / I will carry her out of that tenement room. - Jason GrayI first heard the song I Will Find A Way by Jason Gray a long time ago. I liked it, and listened to it often, but I didn't truly understand. I didn't quite get who the girl was, or why it seemed to tie the birth of Christ into it, since Mary was righteous, and a virgin. Something about it didn't quite make sense, yet I continued to listen to it. It was only during this time of God's gentle whispering when suddenly it hit me:
We are that girl.
We, humanity, bruised, abused, and beaten by sin, and cowering in a dark corner away from the Light that saves.
Into this girl—Christ's chosen love, His bride—the disgraced, ashamed, unfaithful, stubborn harlot—He was born into the womb of this world to save it. We, I; you and me, part of this cursed race; cursed with the disease of sin that kept us apart from God, Christ came to redeem. To draw us unto Himself, if we were willing.
Trading His innocence for our guilt; His righteousness for our shame, we now bear His holiness. Amazing! And someday... someday soon, He is going to take us Home. He's going to take me Home to Himself, wholly. 'A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn'.
I once was blind, but now I see. Christmas. How gracious and loving, that my Father would be so patient with me on this journey; gently leading me to the Child who makes us children again. Though I cannot say what future Christmases will look like for me or what kind of celebrating I will do, this year—2016—has been a year of seeing, really seeing. Not many people my age get to hear the Christmas story with fresh ears, and I am so thankful that God has taken me on this long, round-about journey to get to this place... Where I can sit as His feet and hear His voice tell me The Story for the first time. I will deeply cherish the memory of this Christmas in my heart. For this is The Story:
Et venit, vidit, amavit. He came, He saw, He loved.
This is the greatest gift: God with us. Nevermore alone.
Glory to God in the highest.
I am doing a new thing and soon you will see / I am coming among you and my name shall be / Emmanuel, Emmanuel, Emmanuel / and I have come to take you home. - Jason Gray