Oh Christmas! Last night I managed to string up one set of lights—the only holiday sparkle yet to hit my house. I’m sure one angel somewhere is clapping. I write this from bed, nursing a nasty cold caught on the long flight home last week.
When I got home, I found packages awaiting. One from a dear friend who suddenly broke off our friendship and left town, without explanation some dozen years ago. Now this Christmas gift with no note attached. I am confused all over again, missing her, hurt.
Throughout this holy month my email has been haunted by a sister in Christ. She heard my Focus on the Family broadcast on forgiving my father and after a strange inquisition has determined my view of forgiveness is “unbiblical.” She believes we are only to forgive those who express repentance first. Ah, the terrible danger of the unmeasured mercies of God! (She is right----this forgiveness IS dangerous!) She feels God-appointed to correct my theology and is relentless in her pursuit of me.
None of this has instilled much holiday spirit, you know? We’re all such a mess. Where is our “silent night”? Why aren’t our hearts like the dear “little town of Bethlehem” quietly and plaintively waiting for a savior? Why are we fighting one another? Is there any room for us in the (Holiday) Inn?
When I went to Bethlehem just before Christmas a few years ago, I visited the Church of the Nativity. Here I would find peace and good will! I would see the beauty of a people gathered from around the world to worship Him.
But the oldest church in the world was in chaos. The enormous basilica was under renovation. Scaffolding crosshatched the interior, obscuring the astonishing pillars, the ancient mosaic floors. Undeterred, people from all over the world stood patiently in line, filing past police stationed there to keep the peace. I, too, stood and watched and followed. All had come for this: to step down into the grotto, to kneel and lean into a tiny cavern where there was barely room for a single body. There, a silver star adorned the floor, marking the place where many people believe Mary gave birth to Jesus.
On this day, probably like many days, a tour guide stood outside the room, pushing people through with shouts: “That’s enough! You go! Next! Next in line!” as men and women took their turn. Each one knelt to fit into the tiny space, flashed a photo of the star on the floor, rubbed an arm on its silvery surface or swept a scarf across it while bodies pressed before and behind. The air was thick and damp. One elderly woman in a headscarf lingered in her worship a few seconds too long. “That’s enough! Too long! You get out!” the tour guide yelled at her before impatiently waving the next person in.
When I emerged, stumbling, from the grotto, I heard the glorious buzz of French, Polish, German, Russians as groups marveled over the basilica, but then above it all, a shout came, “Stop! Stop talking! You!” I spotted a policeman in a distant corner, gesturing to the tour guides. The chorus of voices continued, unfazed. He tried again, louder this time, “A service is beginning. Stop now or I’ll kick you all out!” Above his voice and the tourists’ mumbling, the drone of chanting began over in the Orthodox sanctuary.
What a mess! This church is occupied by police and six denominations that operate their own separate realms of this contested cathedral, all eager for a claim to the birthplace of Christ. Sometimes there is peace between them all—sometimes not. The police have broken up brawling priests on occasion.
The day wasn’t over. Near the end, the guide unexpectedly took us to a glistening souvenir shop. It wasn’t on our itinerary. He smiled and rubbed his hands and urged us all to shop ’til we dropped. “It’s all on sale—a 20 percent discount, just for you!” he said with a greedy wink. Two men approached us grinning widely, ready to usher us to the cash register. Minutes later, most in my group left the shop empty-handed. The well-dressed owner, running out of quarry, approached me and began to plead: “You must support us! You simply have to buy something here!”
It was not the happy day I imagined in Bethlehem. I found no peace on that small piece of earth, I found no silent moment, no light shining from dark streets—only shoving and shouting.
But maybe this is hopeful. Was Bethlehem so very different that sacred day? Because of the census, everyone was returning to his hometown and the hotelkeepers were raking it in. The restaurants were overfilled. Every family rented out whatever room they had and charged too much. The noise, the dirt, the animal dung on sandals—everyone too busy making money and trying to get ahead. They paid no thought to a baby born in the hay that night. It was all an unholy mess.
Like me, right now. Maybe like you too. I’ll never be as quiet or still as I want to be at Christmas. I won’t make everything clean and beautiful. People will continue to send me strange packages and haranguing emails which I will not always respond to graciously. There will be dirty rooms and impatient shouts. There will be too many people at the wrong time and not enough at the right time. We’ll try to profit from the season, selling our own wares—and we’ll spend too much. My attempts to create a cathedral of worship for Jesus will likely be pathetic.
But Jesus already knows all of this, and in the end, everything will be all right. Because this is exactly the kind of place He chose to be born. This is exactly the kind of people He chose to be born among. These are exactly the kind of people He was born to save. And we are exactly the kind of people who need saving still.
We don’t have to clean it all up or perfect it first. We don’t have to “fix” other people. We make room for the season in our own life and heart.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
And enter in.
Friends, would you help me bless a few of the "Invisible Ones" I wrote about last post? Do you know someone who doesn't know how beloved they are? Do you know someone who won't get much attention, who maybe won't get a gift, who is alone, or sick or wondering if God even exists, because they are so blinded by need?? Would you write and tell me about this person and send along their address to me? I can't send to all but would be honored to send one of my Wild Harvest gift boxes of salmon, jam, chocolate and love to those that I can. Please email me:firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you so very much.