As we approach Christmas this year, the air is filled with a different kind of wonder. Yes, the Christmas lights are still twinkling and pretty, the hot chocolate is still warm and welcoming, and the entertaining of friends and family brings joy and contentment. Even the thought of presents to unwrap brings a smile to our faces. However, our perspective of Christmas has changed because our year has required our view of our Savior to change. For years we have loved Him, have always tried to celebrate His birth at this time of year, and have tried to remember the true reason for the season. It isn’t all about Santa Clause after all, is it?
This year Christmas looks different because Jesus looks different.
Over the past year, Jesus has showed up in the midst of the darkest storm of my life in a way I have never experienced before. He stretched His arms out wide and brought us deep comfort, peace and dare I say, joy, in the midst of our hardest trial and deepest pain. He brought endurance to face difficult days and rest despite sleepless nights. He brought acceptance and hope. He brought people who loved us well. He brought wonder at His character. He brought a real, living Jesus, a full-grown, perfect Savior. He brought Himself as the spotless Lamb of God who actively intervened in our world and in our story of grief and our hope of redemption.
He isn’t just a cute baby in a wooden manger to us anymore.
He isn’t just a fixture on our wall or one we adorn around our neck. He isn’t just someone we call on when we have tried everything else and failed. He isn’t just a name we sing about on Sunday mornings. He isn’t just one small piece of our life. He is everything. The full package. The true Christmas miracle in flesh.
So many things affect our view of God. Our upbringing, our family religious beliefs , our moral compass, and our past experiences all affect how we see God. Sadly, all too often, we hear stories of people who have been deeply wounded by the church or by people who call themselves Christians. Battered and wounded, people get disenfranchised and decide the God thing isn’t worth it anymore. They put Jesus back into His manger box, only seeing Him as the baby born in the hay. They put Him back on the mantel and forget about Him. He becomes nothing more, nothing less, forgotten except maybe for a few weeks at Christmas time. For us Christians, we can easily fall into this mindset too. Life gets busy, days come and go. Our world of blessings and possessions don’t require us to daily depend on God to meet our needs. We can mostly do this life on our own. We forget that God is still alive. That He still actively pursues us. That He wants to be taken out of the manger box and become fully engaged in an intimate relationship with us. The box is where His earthly life started, but it doesn’t represent who He is in the great scheme of eternity. It sure doesn’t represent Him in my life anymore.
At an earlier point in my life God was only that, just a baby in the box. As the trials and tribulations of my life have come, the neat and tidy box I had kept Jesus in for so long has unraveled. He isn’t some impersonal prophet who came to the earth to be a good teacher and to do a few miracles. He isn’t a bearded man who can look handsome in some paintings. He isn’t just a noble man who took the consequence of someone else’s mistake. He isn’t just a myth or a fantasy. He isn’t just a small wonder at Christmas. He didn’t stay small and weak. He didn’t stay in his box.
We can’t keep Him in a box anymore.
How do I know this is true? There are intellectual arguments I could make. There is the question of the authority of scripture I could argue. There are the prophesies fulfilled that I could point to. But when it comes down to it all, the most powerful argument I have for my Savior is what He has done for me, much like the Samaritan woman from John chapter 4.
The Savior I bring you today, saved me at nine years old, when my parents sent me away to camp so they could go on vacation. My Savior saw me through the death of my close friend in middle school and the suicide of another friend a few years later. As I look back, my Savior carried me through those times, even when I wasn’t following him; even when I didn’t recognize His presence. My Savior led me to a Greek sorority where, against all stereotypes, some sorority sisters were waiting and ready to introduce me to the Jesus I had trusted so many years before. My Savior brought me a godly man who could lead me. In the last 11 years, my Savior has walked me through post-partum depression, 10 moves in 8 years, an auto-immune diagnosis for myself, three babies, an adoption journey still yet to be completed, a severe car accident, a near-fatal choking incident with one child, another daughter’s medical condition, my parent’s divorce, my loved ones path to sobriety, and mom’s three cancer journeys and ultimately her death. He has allowed trials to come, but He has walked me through each one of them, showing me just what I needed along the way. He has forgiven me, thus releasing me to forgive others. He has comforted me. He has given me community. He has redeemed my brokenness. He has performed miracles, even as recently as today.
This afternoon my sister posted a Facebook memory from a year ago, one which showed a photo of us when we were toddlers. My sister is here with us this Christmas as we struggle through this “holly, jolly season”, where our hearts miss Mom the most and our struggle is real. Several hours after she posted the memory, she checked her notifications to see who had liked it. To her astonishment, Mom’s Facebook profile had somehow liked the photo. No one has logged into her account since her death. I am the only one with the password. There is no explanation we can come up with as to how our mom, dead over 5 months, could like a photo of her babies. We took a screen shot of it to memorialize this moment. A couple hours later, Mom’s like was gone. It was there, clear as could be, before it disappeared. It was a small glimpse of Mom and her former life. I truly believe this was a miracle from God. I believe God knew my sister especially needed to see something tangible from Mom today. I believe God sees us and can use any means to show us His love and His presence. He is a Savior that intervenes in our lives in sometimes silent and invisible ways. He is a Savior that loves us so much he sent His only son into this world. God grew His son out of the manger and into a full-grown, perfect lamb, a lamb to be sacrificed for us. He is a God who has the power to raise Jesus from the grave. He is a God who we can have relationship with and who pursues us fiercely. He is a God who can even use a Facebook “like” to meet a deep need of ours…a need to know Mom lives on in heaven and that we are seen.
Christmas looks different this year because our Savior looks different. We see Him for more than just His birth. We see Him for what He has done and continues to do for us and for you.
Through the cookies, gifts, carols and stockings, we celebrate the greatest gift ever given…the birth of our Savior. This year my Savior isn’t just laying in the manger. He can be felt palpably through our tears of both sadness and joy. And so…we celebrate.