we've been heading through advent, having so much fun. i've been rockin' out to "run run rudolph" with my danging-fool children, making things on the lite brite and out of legos, and just generally having a great time, and then, as i was doing a little Christmas shopping on my day off, my phone buzzed with its typical regularity. except this time it was something else. it was a newsbreak. it was death. it was murder. it was suicide. it was unthinkable, unspeakable, unimaginable evil in a school full of children. it was horror. and it stopped me in my tracks.
as i drove home, the same christmas cd that was playing on my way to the store kept spinning out it's sentimental sounds. but it sounded different.
when i got home, the same tree was there, with its hundreds of points of light, but it looked different.
that was friday, and today is monday. my kids are at school. and it feels different.
everything is different. in some ways, it feels hard to just keep doing the things that make our celebration of Christmas what it is. it feels strange to watch the polar express, to bake cookies, to sing along to "i'm dreaming of a white christmas," when, to be honest, i'm dreaming of some much harder things than the weather.
i mean, while i was having a difficult conversation with my 5-year old about how people can sometimes do some really bad things, he began telling me that if someone started shooting a gun in his school, he would lie on the ground and pretend like he was already shot. this is my 5-year old.
life is certainly different now.
and then we got to church on sunday. and we did a call to worship, and sang an opening song, and we lit the advent wreath (the candle of joy). we read scripture and started doing all the same things that we've been doing - that we always do - during advent. and just like that candle, a little light seemed to go on inside me, ignited by the practice of worshipping a God who created and loves this big beautiful mess of a world. as we worshipped, as we sang, as we watched the dancing flames, we remembered something we desperately needed to remember:
Jesus is our only Hope. we get all excited for Christmas this time each year, not because of the gifts on our list, not because of the cookies, not even because of the joy on kids' faces, but because the birth of that little baby. no, not the baby in your crystal nativity set, or the porcelain one, or the plastic one, or the country-styled one. it's not pretty. it's childbirth. it's painful and messy and loud. but it is beautiful, and despite all of our decorations, it is the only reason we go through all this each year. that little birth, so much like every birth, is certainly different, too.
the baby born that night is hope. he is love. he is peace. he is, believe it or not (i am choosing to believe it) the One who will take this broken world - newly broken in even more hideous ways - and set it right. he is the One called Emmanuel - God with us - who doesn't want to ball up the world like some flawed sketch, ball it up and toss it in the garbage, but who wants to take this big beautiful mess and recreate it. he is going to make it new. he is going to redeem it.
actually, he already has. and he wants to use us to help him move towards the completion of that process. as broken and hurt and confused and inadequate as we are, he has chosen us to help him set things right.
and so we must celebrate this Christmas. not because of tradition. not because of some sense of sweet sentimentality that must not be surrendered. but because without Christmas, without that broken water and bethlehem birth, we have no hope; we have no redemption. yes, the world has changed, and the brokenness seems as shatteringly hopeless as ever. yes death is a devilish foe, and the darkness seems daunting, but Christmas is the time when, along with those angels from places of glory, we come and worship the light of the world. a light who, when kindled in us, can spread and grow and shine out beyond us, into the broken places.
after i started this post, only a few paragraphs in, i got a call to get to the hospital quickly, because one of our most faithful and beloved church members was dying of cancer. only a few hours later, with all of her family gathered around her, saying a prayer over her, she finally succumbed to the disease which had broken her body - but never her spirit - for so long now.
and as i came back to this post, after having a good cry and a little pity party, i remembered once again what i wanted to say. i guess it is what i am pretty much always trying to say: love wins. that's what Jesus taught. that's what people who carry his name today (Christians) believe. and that's what i am trying to enact in my every decision and action: that brokenness and darkness and cancer and school shootings are not the end of this story. that this is a story that ends with love....with healing....with wholeness....with redemption...and even with joy. that is our hope.
at church on sunday we read the words from the prophet Zephaniah 3. words that are worth hanging our faith on: words about how when God will make everything new, there will be no more sadness. no more brokenness. no more grief. just unspeakable joy. that''s worth celebrating, even in the midst of death. even in the midst of the darkness and brokenness. even today.
so sing out. sing your christmas carols. gather with your family and celebrate - truly celebrate - christmas again this year. and make sure you do your best to remember what it is all about. not a beautifully painted scene in a book, but a very real story of birth and life and hope in the midst of death and darkness. everything has changed, because hope is born in us. that is Christmas.