Come and be filled with gratitude and holy wonder with me—how God allows you and I to face the darkness of sin and death that we might come to know the poignancy of the blazing light of Jesus, our God of the Nativity.
As a little girl, I struggled with the message of Christmas. The message I gathered from the world was one of sentimental, material, and familial perfection. My world was not so charming.
Perhaps it was the abrupt shift of losing my father before my fourth birthday. In my heart I was acutely aware of sin and death. My family was broken and needy, I felt vulnerable, and I fought a nagging battle of fear. Even in later years, when material abundance was lavished, I couldn’t help but feel the empty longing still. So, if the ultimate Christmas meant no sorrow, no lack, no darkness, no fight, well then, maybe someone out there was actually having Christmas, but clearly not me.
I heard the message of the cross when I was eight years old. Jesus became my hero, my knight in shining armor. The message of the cross came by way of the Holy Spirit, and the white-hot heat of his love melted a thousand hurting places in my heart. I invited him to start a work in my heart, and indeed, I experienced an outpouring—I fell in love with this priest, this prophet, with my king.
But my wrestle with understanding of the mystery of the manger would continue. How could it be that God, in all his unfathomable glory, entered the world in an unimpressive manger as a tender, helpless, obscure, naked infant? What was this Bethlehem mystery wherein I was being beckoned to come close and worship upon my knees in the muck and the mire?
In my journey of faith, I had wanted to fast-track soul healing; subconsciously, I had signed up for a triumphant, prosperous road of salvation. I started my own family and began my motherhood looking for God primarily in prosperity, progress, and perfection. God chose to come to me in poignant paradox.
It was the year we miscarried our child, and the next season that followed when we lost our home, that the poverty of my heart and circumstances forced the issue of my understanding, yet again, come Christmas-time. It was in my weakness and insecurity at a time when I felt lost, hidden, and altogether too feeble to meet the needs and wants of my children the way I had expected, that I would come to begin to understand the Eucharistic love of the tender Christ-child of Bethlehem. Nothing proves this beautiful kingdom-reality more than the manger at Bethlehem. My heart, my marriage, and my motherhood have grown miraculously stronger in the bond of faith. Abundance of hope, peace, joy, and love is the truth found in this infant-God, Jesus.
It is here in the manger that he gives us himself—his very own heart wrapped in tender flesh. The Word himself was born to come alive in our hearts and to deliver us in and despite our circumstances. It is the Christ child that came to fight for our very lives—to be born, to die, to become our eternal bread in the Eucharist. Here we find a compelling, compassionate warrior infinite in tender love. Jesus draws us into vulnerability and into the purity of devotion—beckoning our hearts. It is here that we are able to surrender and release our hard, needy places. We come empty, and God fills our emptiness with the Christ of the Eucharist. Here we release the pain of the past and we surrender our fears of the future as we burn for desire for the present-presence of Jesus.