Babies and Somewhat Sacred Writings

There were no organic cotton blankets in the rustic venue. There were animals hovering nearby, probably devoid of their rabies shots. There were no aromatherapy candles to give calming ambience, and instead the scent was probably nauseating to a woman with a brand new baby. The carefully written birth plan was non-existent. It was dark and cold.

The arrival of Baby Jesus is a common enough story, even to people who don’t consider Christianity to be for them. But why is it that Christ’s advent is as a baby? Have you ever heard a story so often you slightly lose the significance? Why a baby? Until a few Christmases ago, the record of this birth as central to the Scriptures merely seemed to me like a logical way to get onto the planet – by birth, like the rest of us. He could have dropped as a man out of the sky and onto a beach or desert. There could have been no record of His early life and we could have met Him at the baptismal waters with John the Baptist. But, recently, I began to see more significance to the infant incarnation.

There is plenty to read about Christ’s identification with man and vice versa. There are the points about temptation, suffering, and fully understanding humanity, minus the sin nature of course, that need Christ to have lived the entire span of a human life. But, the words of II Timothy 3:15 came to mind as I read to my daughter one day. “…From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The Apostle Paul is affirming with Timothy his legacy of faith, encouraging his continuance in believing and spreading the Gospel. From childhood, infancy really, Timothy has known the truth of Christ, of his family’s faith, as it became his own faith.

It can feel awkward and forced to use theological language with a baby. I wanted to teach my children the importance of Christ’s birth, without the awkwardness that comes from making a toddler say “incarnation” (however amusing that might be). My conundrum of toddler development and theological communication was solved by a few storybooks, along with a fresh awaking to the powerful wisdom of God.

Both of my children love books. As their developmental stages occur, they become fascinated with babies. Real babies, baby pictures, baby faces, anything to do with another little person have fascinated them. Board books with the Christmas story, Song of the Stars, and The Jesus Storybook Bible (by Sally Lloyd-Jones) are a few of the Christmas books we read. One day, my mental light switch turned on. We read the story, looking at the sheep, pointing at the angel, touching the star. When we turned the last page and saw a stable scene, with a manger, and a baby inside that manger, my daughter’s excitement became infectious. “Baby, baby, baby!” she squealed while she pointed and smiled and traced the face with her finger.

Now a children’s book is rarely considered a sacred writing, even when retelling the sacred truths of the Bible. And my daughter was more excited about the picture of a baby than about the implications of Christ’s incarnation. But, the brilliance of God’s plan to send a Savior in the form of a little baby brought a cascade of amazement to my mind. This Savior, Christ the Lord, made Himself human flesh so that we could identify with Him, completely – from the earliest beginnings of our comprehension. He came as a newborn human, giving even a baby the chance to know Him, to know His grace, before he or she can even say His name. He identified with the creation He came to save, with the smallest of us. God’s masterful plan to seek, save, and draw many sons to glory unfolds in unfathomable wonder as a child begins to learn about a Savior through a connection with baby, similar to herself. “…From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings…” is completely possible thanks to the masterful plan God.

I realized, once again, that God’s redemption is both clearly simple and incredibly astounding. His plan is so simple that from childhood, the gospel can be understood. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, confess with your mouth that you are a sinner, and believe in your heart that the resurrection is true. Children begin early to learn WHO Jesus was – once a baby just like them – and is – the risen Lord of the universe who seeks and saves. His plan is so meticulously perfect that no human could have drawn such a beautiful plan to redeem mankind. No human could have considered all the implications of Christ’s incarnation, like coming as a baby to identify with His treasured creation from the beginning. The tiny details included in the redemption plan make one marvel at the brilliance and compassion of a Creator and God.

The scholarly works written on the birth of Christ are numerous. Sacred writings are carefully preserved. The birth of Christ commenced the fulfillment of the greatest tale of love ever. It brings nations and tribes and people together to celebrate. The message of the gospel spans centuries, intelligence levels, and generational divides. Promised from the beginning chapters of the Bible, Jesus came to Earth, as our Rescuer, our promised Deliverer, to break sin’s curse, offering humanity the only freedom from death’s prison. Christmas celebrates the Gospel – the good news that Christ came to win His treasured children back from death’s grip. The account of this birth becomes the delight of babies squealing over books that show the rustic, lowly advent of our Savior, thanks to the wisdom and masterful design of the Creator and Redeemer of all. We can celebrate the advent, the birth, the coming of Christ, reveling in the knowledge that the Creator and Redeemer would come and identify with His creation of the lowest age and place.IMG_5430.JPG

Rudolph, Isaiah, and the Best Years of Our Lives

We stumbled and bounced into the post office, three of us at one time, bundled into hard to move winter coats, with a large pile of crisp white Christmas card envelopes in tow. When we enter small spaces, it can sometimes feel like quite the dramatic entrance. I never know who might trip, if someone will stop and stand still because something “scary” looms ahead inside the doorway, or if the smallest child will suddenly decide she doesn’t want to be held and simultaneously doesn’t want to stand on her own two feet. I negotiate how doors will be opened with a child in my arms, with a four year old who either believes she can handle the world on her own and needs to open even the heaviest doors alone or gets distracted by her imaginary friends, and with the kind attempts – or lack thereof – from strangers to politely help up with said doors. Sometimes the opening of doors and falling into rooms can be one of the trickiest parts of going places with children.

So, into the little post office we bounced. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer stamp posters were decorating the wall, to the delight of my daughter. “Rudolph!” she squealed. An older man attaching stamps to envelopes turned around and gave the girls a big smile. The two girls entertained themselves as I bought some (Rudolph) stamps. The man was the friendly sort, chatty but not overbearing, obviously happy at the sight of two little girls. I started placing stamps on envelopes, with a break in the action for both girls to send envelopes down the letter shoot before they darted under the counter where the man and I were working. He was still talking to them and then he looked up at me with a smile and said to me words I often suspect and don’t dare to voice. “These are the best days of your life, you know.” He said it cheerfully, with no regret, but only enthusiasm.   He told me he had three children, eleven grandchildren, and six great grandchildren. He told me raising his children was the most fun he had in his life. Everyone says time goes fast, but this statement was specific, pointed.

My birthday was this week. For some reason, there are certain years that stump us. The years that are in between the milestones make me pause more than the milestones. These sorts of years remind me that while things like birthdays and Christmastime return annually, but the years never recur again. There has been a bit of pause for me in the last few months. Watching my baby turn into a little girl in four short years and my second baby valiantly fight to keep up with her older sister is an everyday reminder of the overexposed speed that life travels. Suddenly, another birthday is here, one baby face is growing older, and another baby is running and talking. Someday I will be able to type with two hands because there will not be two girls wriggling on and over and around my lap as I write. Perhaps I am odd, but I can get caught up in what my childhood expectations of my life were and in anxiety about what the future may bring. Instead, I am better off realizing that NOW is the life that I am living. The past has left and the future will be in God’s hands. I cannot live with regret about the past, frustration about the present, or anxiety about the future. I can learn from past mistakes, live fully now, and realize God will care for the future.

I’m trying to finish up some books I started awhile ago. In The Luggage of Life, Frank Boreham touches on Isaiah,

It is the intermediate stage that tests the mettle of the man. It is the long, fatiguing trudge out of sight of both starting-point and destination that puts the heaviest strain on heart and brain. That is precisely what Isaiah meant in the best known and most quoted of all his prophecies. He promises that, on the return from Babylon to Jerusalem, ‘they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint/ Israel is to be released at last from her long captivity. Imagine the departure from Babylon—its fond anticipations, its rapturous ecstasies, its delirious transports! Those first steps of the journey were not trying; they were more like flying. The delighted people walked with winged feet. And the last steps—with Jerusalem actually in sight, the pilgrims actually climbing the mountains that surrounded the holy and beautiful city—what rush of noble and tender emotions would expel and banish all thought of weariness! But Isaiah is thinking of the long, long tramp between —the drag across the desert, and the march all void of music. It is with this terrible test in mind that he utters his heartening promise: ‘They shall walk and not faint.’ They would fly, as on wings of eagles, out of Babylon at the beginning; they would run, forgetful of fatigue, into Jerusalem at the end; but they should walk and not faint. That is life’s crowning comfort. The very climax of divine grace is the grace that nerves us for the least romantic stage of the journey. Farewells and welcomes, departures and arrivals, have adjusting compensations peculiar to themselves; but it is the glory of the gospel that it has something to say to the lonely traveller on the dusty tract. Religion draws nearer when romance deserts. Grace holds on when the gilt wears off.

 (pp.72)

I always skimmed over the walking part of that verse. It seemed like that action had to be included to make the analogies complete, but was otherwise superfluous. But a good part of our life includes the walking, perhaps sometimes impatiently, perhaps sometimes wearily. The days spent doing whatever it is we do without seeing grandiose or world altering results are walking days. The phases when accomplishment seems elusive, but work is in process are walking days. We repeat many days over and over without feeling like they are different. We remember time in clusters of days, sometimes with outstanding moments glimmering like stars.

Whether they are the best days of our lives or the worst, they are our lives. I do not know if I am in the best stage of my life. I suspect I may be. There is certainly plenty of happiness and gratefulness surrounding me. I know that years can be hard and life can hold suffering. But the constant is that the God who holds us up when we run, soar, or walk is the God who never changes. He is the God who sent His Son to give us the only comfort and joy in life and death. We look at Advent with anticipation, at Christmas with joy, and through that lens we can see our whole lives. I am not sure that God carries the perspective that there are best days of our lives. We feel that on a human level. But He cares for us completely, at all times. He grants us the years to live, rescues our souls, bears us up as we move through this life. The only way we can run, soar, or walk is by His grace and providence. His is the love that never changes. He is the one that remains the same. And that, through the best years and soaring years, the low years and the walking days, is the great promise in which we find hope.IMG_0248.JPG

Why Christmas Lights Matter

She kept saying that she was making things beautiful. This is the first year she has actually been able to really help. Only one ornament broke. She was so excited to be a part of what we were doing.  So now, the tree is up. And lit. December is here.  And we forge ahead, into the end of the year, as new moments and memories, still unrealized, wait to join our rituals. DSC_0273

Lights, warmth, company, food, laughter, presents, memories, hope and good wishes. These are the images that march through our minds when we think about Christmas – in our non-cynical moments.  These are the feelings we crave and hope for each year. And these are also why holiday seasons are hard when our memories are not all happy, when health has broken down, when loss is a gaping hole in our hearts, when our expectations are violated, leaving us sad and empty.

It’s fairly easy to remember Christmastime as a pleasant part of childhood. But as we age and life breaks on us like waves on the sand, it can be harder to conjure the feelings of hope and joy that are scrawled across cards and commercials. Conflicted feelings of happiness and anxiety, hope and fear fight and battle for the seat of honor at our table.

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But why, despite loss, life, and harsh reality’s glaring presence, are we still drawn to the Christmas season?

Because in the darkest season on Earth, light came. Because in our sickness,  a physician who heals wholly, completely, came. Because on the coldest night, there is warmth for the heart. In the middle of isolation, there is acceptance. In our loneliness, we are made the friends of the eternal God.

Because in our losses, a Father suffers with us, because He too, once gave and lost  – so that we could be His children. Because with our isolation, Christ remembers that a baby born in a manger was left alone, to die under our sin, so that we would be free from the darkness, the cold, the emptiness, the violated expectations in our lives.

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The expectation of future joy and peace replace the holes left by the need of grace and redemption.  And, while some see the activity of the Christmas season as superfluous, we must see it as the mirror of a beautiful redemption.

We make beauty around us because our Creator is beauty and His creation cannot resist following His lead.  In our deepest, farthest, almost unknown places of our souls, we crave everything that Christmas brings. We crave purpose and meaning and belonging. Those are gifts found only through Christ.

We watch the brilliant Christmas lights as they shine into the dark wintery nights.  We crave light.  We crave beautiful light that will open our hearts and make us know what we want and who we are meant to be.  We long for our Creator and Father, our Redeemer.

DSC_0284As the trees go up and the decorations multiply and the music cheerfully lilts, find the beauty of Christ in the shimmering and the sparkling.  Watch the lights shine across miles of shops and homes and landscapes and take comfort that no matter what memories of Christmas surround you and no matter what dread encloses you, there is peace from the Prince, promised and complete, propelling us through the cold darkness, to a warm Spring, to resurrection power and glory.