Each year, as the Christmas season approaches, I find myself caught up in sweet surrender to the mystery of the incarnation. I am overwhelmed with the thought that the Second Person of the Trinity lowered himself to live among us as the beautiful baby of Bethlehem, that he left the mansions of heaven for the warmth of the Blessed Virgin’s womb. This is the perfect love that heard the deepest longings of the human heart and came to earth to die the substitutionary death on the cruel cross to free us from our fallen state of sin.
And yet, I must confess that sometimes I become so caught up in the spirit of Christmas Past that I forget what it truly means to be a child of the incarnational God.
As I sit in my recliner by the roaring fire gazing at the tree so beautifully decorated with ornaments that sing our family’s story, I am sadly aware that this year, we will not be all together for the holiday. My older daughter Lina Rose is half-way around the world, serving the Savior in Africa, no longer that sweet little girl who will rush down the stairs on Christmas morning to hand out her homemade gifts and open presents with her brother and sister as in times past.
Letting Go and Letting Grow
My daughter’s absence is a bittersweet reminder of the way our God turns the seasons of time for his beloved children, moving us from moment to moment from faith to faith, as we walk the way of salvation from baptism to beatific vision. In my anxious father’s heart, I want to hold on to those days when my children were babies and I shared in the miracle of watching them grow day by precious day. I covet those first words and first steps, the wonder of discovery, the laughter, the tender tears, and a million incredible moments of joy.
But children grow from infant to adult, through the awkward teenage years where the disappointments seem to come on a daily basis as they seek their place in this broken world. I find that I must let them go so they may grow into the ones God has made them to be. As much as I cherish those early years, I am so blessed to be the one God chose to witness the unfolding of their lives; and at no time is this beautiful reality more present to me than at Christmas.
The Baby who Came to Die — and Will Come Again to Bring Us Home
I have a number of nativity scenes around my house, including a simple etching on a block of wood that my daughter gave me before leaving for her 16-month internship overseas. These keepsakes carry me back to the days of my youth and the family crèche made by my mother’s father, filled with figurines representing the birth of our Savior on that first Christmas day.
Those days were sometimes a struggle, as I grew from an awkward little boy into a man so blessed and yet so unworthy to receive the gifts God has given me in my family. But I have learned through those difficult life lessons that we, like the Savior, were born to die.
That Jesus came as a little baby on a cold night in that lowly stable fills me with wonder I find hard to contain. That he grew to be a man, to walk this weary world of pain and sorrow and bring his gentle touch and powerful words of love all the way to the cross, breaks my hardened heart and brings me peace.
Even as we celebrate the days of Advent and the season of Christmas, we are reminded through the pages of Scripture that our Lord came the first time to give his life, so that he could one day come the second time to draw his people home. Every word of the Gospels points to the wonderful reality of that Great Day to come.
The Fullness of Life Live Out For Us
From his birth, Jesus moved along the path of salvation as he lived out the purpose for which he came. The infant sighs that called to his mother for comfort became the cry of hope fulfilled when his purpose was completed at the cross. The tiny hands that clung to his mother’s breast one day were stretched out to take the nails for the sins of the world. The swaddling bands that cradled the Christ child were replaced by the myrrh-soaked cloths that wrapped his broken body as he was placed in the holy tomb, awaiting his second birth.
Every moment of our Lord’s life was a living sign of God’s perfect and eternal love.
Christmas unfolds with sacred symbols and tender traditions, just as the life of our Lord was the unfolding sacrament of our salvation. The Light of Heaven came to dispel the darkness. The Living Water overflowed from the True Temple to bring life to those wandering in the dry and weary wilderness of suffering and sin. The bread and the wine became his Body and Blood, broken and poured out in a perfect sacrifice of love from the cross. In him, all humanity was offered rebirth through water and Spirit.
In Christ the fullness of the Godhead spilled over into our lives to fill us with love, transform us in his image, and carry us home.
Building Temples and Seeking Satisfaction
After the Jewish people returned to the Promised Land from 70 years of exile in Babylonia, the prophet Haggai called them to stop building their own homes and return to building the temple in Jerusalem (Haggai 1:1-15). The people were creating personal temples paneled with self-importance and decorated with the trappings of this world, instead of dedicating themselves to restoring the holy place where God had come to dwell among men.
Jesus, the Word of God, entered this lonely world to build his temple among humanity. He called us to seek true peace and perfect surrender in the Kingdom where the least are the greatest and the weary find eternal rest. He spoke of the destruction of the earthly temple and the resurrection of his body, the true temple wherein the fullness of God lives. Only in him could humanity find salvation, satisfaction, and eternal security in the Kingdom of Heaven.
We are temples of the Holy Spirit; and yet, how often do we build worldly temples within us where we worship our position or our possessions? Why do we care more about our self-worth and our fading glory when we should be preparing a throne in our hearts for the King of kings to occupy? We are like dirty mangers that no amount of earthly splendor can ever clean up; and yet, our Savior longs to enter in and make our hearts his home.
O that we would sweep out the dusty and dirty rooms of sin and self-satisfaction and make room for the Son of God to dwell forevermore! If we would but open the door of our lives and call our Savior to enter in, how reality satisfied and ever ready we would be to live out the gospel in all we say and do!
Christmas Together Because of Him
Though my daughter is thousands of miles away, she is still near and dear to our hearts. Because of our modern age, we can still celebrate Christmas Day as a family as we connect with each other and share images and words of love through our computers and phones. But the truth is, we will never need a piece of technology to bond with one another in Christ. He is the One who loved us enough to come as the helpless baby who one day walked all the way up Calvary’s hill.
Our family is joined together in the salvation we share in Christ, and my precious daughter and all my family members are never more than a whispered prayer away.
Each year, as I call out in my heart for Emmanuel to come once more, for the reality of the incarnation to breathe new life into my shattered soul, I am transfixed on the stable, the star, and the story of the God who came to earth. But this incredible vision gives way to the revelation of a cross upon a hill, an empty tomb, and a Savior who will one day come in the clouds to call his children home.
That vision brings a joy so deep and so powerful that even this father holding on to tender memories of the past can let go and seek the brighter future that is ever unfolding before him and his loving family.
May God bless you and your precious family this and every Christmas. May you be overcome with joy at the incarnation and learn the blessed mystery of letting go as you look with longing for the day when Christ will come again carry us home to our heavenly reward.