Dear Abba: A Letter at Christmastime
The stockings are hung. The house has been filled with Christmas music. We’ve played Pentatonix’s “Little Drummer Boy” about a million times in 23 days while driving to experience all of the holiday adventures. Ingredients are on the stove, ready to bake cookies for Santa. Oats and glitter are in the cabinet, waiting to be transformed into a meal fit for reindeer. Logs are by the fireplace, ready to warm our cozy space and our hearts. Your Word sits on the table, bookmarked to Luke, Chapter 2, ready for our reading of why we are celebrating at all. We’ve filled this month with so many activities it’s taken 608 pictures to capture it all: downtown Christmas parade, Frist, Cheekwood, Discovery Center, SunnySide Lights, Opryland, 2 Christmas concerts at church, the Very Merry Christmas event, Walk Through Bethlehem, the park twice, caroling and lots of shopping.
And in everything we’ve done, I’ve seen You.
We have not encountered a single unkind stranger in any of the adventures. During the Christmas parade, there was the police officer who talked to the girls and the church volunteers who offered them hot chocolate. At Cheekwood, there was the best Santa Claus ever, whose kindness even made me cry. At the Walk Through Bethlehem experience, there was the shopkeeper who hugged the girls and said she was glad we were back for another year. At Opryland, there was the employee who took the time to smile at us and chat, making us all feel welcomed and taken care of. And at nighttime, I’ve gone out of my way to read articles of people being good to one another; I’ve steered clear of any heartbreaking stories.
I know there are people for whom Christmas is emotionally difficult. I’m reminded of that every time I see a Facebook post of someone going to an “ugly sweater” Christmas party or read about big, happy families. I haven’t been invited to a party in…. well… ever (I started to say high school, but I made it through high school without being invited to a single party) and our family, precious as it is, is quite small. So I understand how loneliness can seem like a mighty elephant this time of year; I know how painful it can be. During any other season of the year, I would likely wallow in the heartbreaking sadness so many feel; I would write about how our bodies tremble when we feel inferior. Only…. something weird happens to me during Christmas… it’s as if I just physically don’t know how to focus on anything negative. I come alive during December. No matter what personal circumstances I may face, I quite simply refuse to care. No tears will keep me from enjoying the lights or going caroling or from shrieking with excitement if “Smoky Mountain Christmas” should come on the television. No matter what negativity comes my way during this period, it’s as though it bounces off a wall. My whole heart just hums with anticipation, warmth and childlike excitement instead.
This is actually quite weird and frighteningly unlike me because, during every other month of the year, I am an Olympic Gold Medalist in the Over-Thinking competition. 11 months of the year, I stress myself out over making perfect everything I can. I can’t simply ignore stress or hide under a rock: confronting crisis is what I do every other month of the year. Except during Christmastime. During the month of December, I have something bigger to focus on than pain, something so amazing it literally drowns out every self-defeating thought in my head.
Except I don’t see You as a newborn baby in my head. I see You as the Lion who scared away the demons for me that night as I lay, a terrified teenager who didn’t know what else to do but repeatedly whisper Your name. That night taught me that Your name—Jesus—holds awe-inspiring power. I don’t see You as a newborn baby. Instead, I see Him as the lamb who brought me the greatest gifts of my life, my daughters. I remember trembling as I stared down into their tiny faces, asking, “Are you a baby?” because I could not fathom being given something so precious. The day Breathe ran through the house as an innocent five-year-old and the thought whispered through my head, “She could burn the house down and it would be an accident,” that epiphany was Your Spirit breathing life-restoring words into a broken heart. I don’t see You as a newborn baby in my head. Instead, I try to count the prayers I’ve prayed that You’ve answered and lose count. I don’t see You as a newborn baby in my head, I see the teacher who, every time I open the Bible, shows me something new within its holy pages. I don’t see You as a newborn baby in my head. Instead, I see the homeless man Joey who taught me that angels really are amongst us. I don’t see You as a newborn baby, I see You as the teacher who made me feel seen. I don’t see You as the newborn baby, I see You as the Prince of Peace, as evidenced by the quieting of my heart as I play with or watch my girls. I don’t see You as a newborn baby, I see You as the King who steps down from His beautiful throne so that He might share a meal with a murderer, a thief, a prostitute or even someone like me. I don’t see You as a newborn baby. I see You as the flawless lamb who volunteered for a torturous, painful, terrifying trial and death simply so that I might live with You.
Breath-takingly simple and yet incomprehensible.
But before You were the lamb on the cross, before You were the Wonderful Counselor who tutored rabbis, before You granted Your mother a favor by turning water to wine, before You took my broken past and turned it into a thing of beauty, before You were my friend…. You were a newborn baby, wrapped in cloths, laid in a manger. Before Your Spirit drew my heart toward Your Word, Your Father announced Your birth not to kings or royalty but by sending an entire heavenly host of angels to some lowly shepherds whose lives were forever changed by the “good news of great joy” that was You. Before You were the Lion of Judah, Your mother cradled You in her arms, sang You lullabies, helped You learn to walk.
The magnitude of the beauty that is Your Son’s story is hard to comprehend.
Except during Christmastime. During Christmastime, when the dark is literally lit up with decorative, colored lights shining on strangers’ homes, magic happens. Except it’s not really magic, it’s a miracle. For just a little while, the whole world softens and people stop chasing the dollar to look at nativity scenes, light candles and sing “Away in A Manger.” During Christmastime, my eyes are opened through my children who find believing in things as silly as flying reindeer easy; I stop looking at this old, worn-out world and start seeing it with the wonder of a child frolicking for the first time in snow. Bridges are mended as families who can’t stand each other the other 364 days of the year come together under the same roof to share a meal. The weight of shame lifts long enough for me to lift head so that I might see the stranger smiling at me. At Christmastime everything from the chilly temperatures to the crackling fireplaces to the sparkling lights and pretty bows on gifts to the smell of homemade dinner brings an unsurpassed joy that can’t be created by man alone. The thrill in my heart during this Season, the light in my girls’ eyes, the incomparable joy is because Your Son is what we are celebrating: a living, moving being that loves us so much He was born to die. The joy is incomparable and all-consuming because You sent Him, knowing He was to die, for me. Human beings truly only want one thing: to be loved. When I grasp the idea that I already am loved, and by the One who helps me to rise to my feet again when I can’t on my own no less, all I want to do is sing and dance with joy.
Christmas Eve dawns in a few hours. We’ll cook, sing songs, read of that miraculous, virgin baby and then drift off to sleep with anticipation and a joy so bright it will forever carve the memory of this, a happy Season, into our hearts. Hope isn’t about Christmas parties or big families, hope is the expectation of joy. And joy is not about counting the presents beneath the tree; lasting joy is the belief that we are wanted, loved and beautiful in the eyes of someone who matters. For 34 years, You have shadowed my life. You’ve given me stories when I needed friends, You’ve given me a mother, a sister and two little girls who have taught me to live in grace and You’ve brought healing, physical, emotional and spiritual. And You’ve given us a Season to celebrate Your Son, an unbelievable act of selflessness and a life-transforming love.
If our God is for us, then who could ever stand against? There is no power on Earth, no darkness so black, no pain so unmoveable that it has the power to overshadow Your name. May that the strength of Christmas, the indefatigable joy that sets my heart on fire during December, stay with me every day of the coming year, for You are the same yesterday, today and forever. I love You, Abba: thank You for Christmas.