God with us (part 2 of 2)

[namesake note: this is the second of 2 parts.  the first part is here.]

I reflected on my setting when I started this mental escapade – sitting over 2000 years and several thousand miles from that barn and those teenagers and those shepherds and that cow – in a church with over 800 of my closest friends.  We were singing about that baby.

It’s likely that billions of people reflected on the same thing last week.  I wonder how many billions of people have reflected and worshiped in response to that “good news” since it was first published.

In fact, the music on the overhead speakers in every business I patronized last week – Wal-Mart, and McDonald’s, and Target, and Starbucks, and every other icon of American consumerism – was singing about that baby.

There’s no way to deny it, believe it or not, support it or not, love it or not, that the “good news” and that baby have made an impact.  I mean, I hear Caesar Augustus was big in his day, but as far as I know, I’ve never heard a song about him – at least not in Wal-Mart.

On the other hand, there were several songs about a dude called Santa Claus, too.  Apparently, he’s a big deal, as well.  So maybe, that Jesus kid and his story, are just news, but not “good news”.  Maybe the news merely evolved into goodness over the years as a bedtime story for frustrated parents dealing with washing-machine puddles, fevers, and starving children.

BUT . . .

I made cookies and pumpkin bread on Christmas evening, after we had returned from our newly-traditional Christmas dinner at McDonald’s, as my children sat around the table discussing the options for giving away their money.

Our kids are required, once they start receiving an allowance, to put aside a portion of everything they earn, or receive as gifts, for charitable giving.  They get to decide where it goes, but it has to be some type of charity.  We call it “church money” though it doesn’t always go to the church.

For Christmas each year, we gather around the table and talk about the options for giving away any remaining church money they have in their banks.  In years past, the money has gone to World Vision or Samaritan’s Purse.  This year, as I baked, the kids perused and discussed options from two “gift catalogs” – one from our church for missions projects around the world, and one from Samaritan’s Purse.

The kids brought over $400 to the table, and when it turned out they couldn’t finance everything that was meaningful to them, they dipped into their own personal spending funds to produce another $60.

The nagging cynic on my shoulder says that they responded merely out of their training and environment because we’ve set their expectations and principles in such a way.  That cynic doesn’t stick around long, though, when I start noting the tears and passion that were displayed around that table.  It was an indisputable display of unworldly beauty.

And, I wondered, in response to that experience, if I was witnessing part of the “good news” about a baby savior.  I believe that’s what it was, but I also recognize that a few dollars and some tears don’t justify, much less explain, the hype of this Christmas story.  Kids giving unselfishly is definitely good news, BUT there must be more.

I read something today that helped me along this way, though.  I feel better about it now.

It is an immense hope and is the gift of faith; and faith, it seems, is in part a readiness to receive the symbols not only as gifts of immeasurable value in themselves but as far more; echoes, gleams, reflections, intimations of what George MacDonald calls ‘the secret too great to be told.’ The symbols cannot tell us what it is, but if we are ready and willing to watch and listen and receive, they breathe out to us the knowledge that it is there. To breathe in this breath, to catch its perfume or the echo of its music, the faith that Christ likened to a grain of mustard seed. A simple thing, yet hiding within itself the possibility of miraculous transformation. What the essence of our faith can be, I still do not really know, but I do know the words that come to me when I hear great music or see the sun lighting up the spiders’ webs on a morning when spangled with dew. ‘I bring you good tidings of great joy.’  –  Elizabeth Goudge

There is more.  Seriously, I believe we humans all believe that.

We’re frustrated, though, by the mystery of it all:  the difficulty in comprehending, explaining, and applying the “good news”.

It’s like the discussion my kids and I shared last week with our friend Joliene, the PhD student in Inorganic Biochemistry (whatever that is) at the University of Delaware, about atoms and molecules and the things that Legos are made of.  The language of it all is impossible, and the awareness that everything that is visible is made of things that are invisible is an overwhelming, mind-blowing realization.

We can’t figure out this “good news” stuff.  It’s a different language expressing foreign ideas about invisible, incomprehensible things.  We feel the stirring of it in our hearts and in our hope, but we really can’t fathom the way it all comes together to provide meaning and power in the practical moments of this life.

So, we leave the explanations aside.  We let the story become cliche, full of pop culture, because we can’t figure out how to manage this life and the invisible and distant at the same time. Our hearts tell us it’s true, but we’re not really sure how to talk about it.

Then, yesterday morning, after yet another church service talking about that baby, we sang songs about him.  As we sang, I cried (more water coming out of my face – what’s up with that?!) when we got to the part of the song that says, “. . . there is no one else for me, none but Jesus . . .”

The bad attitude I’ve had and the questions that disturb my soul about this whole Christmas story thing, cannot deter my heart.  I believe it.  I believe it is good news.  He is the savior.  My savior.

I can’t explain it, and I’m often irritated by it, BUT everything that is visible is made from things that are invisible, and everything that is good comes from Jesus.

This one thing I know.

One thought on “God with us (part 2 of 2)”

  1. Thank you Dale.
    I have found a growing cynicism in my own heart about the good news of Christmas (shouldn’t it be great news?)- Anyway, it’s hard to work at the place putting on the production.

    I should pause here to acknowledge that there will be people whom I know that will read this comment, so I feel it necessary to say that I love my church. And I feel that a celebration for Christmas is something that all churches must do (well).

    But don’t you see? The inner-conflict I have that prompted me to write the above disclaimer is the same one that is attached to this cynicism. The authenticity of it all. Yes. There is something more. Way more. Something more than I will ever know…

    You know who I think about?
    I think about Mary. I think about that angel telling that teenager that the child she would carry would be the Savior of the world. Then I think about Isaiah 53 where it says “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” and how just a few lines earlier it says that Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering”.
    When she held her baby and carressed him and breast-fed him and cleaned him day after day, scuffed knee after scuffed knee, did she have that prophecy in the back of her mind? Did it rob her daily of joy? Did she have joy to spite it?
    I think the tears come for me because Christmas is both beautiful and terrible. Absolutely impossible- yet He came. Part of me wants to grieve, but part of me wants to dance in the streets in my pajamas (yes, like David). Tears and laughter. Misery and an overwhelming final peace.

    Suffer the joy Dale.
    Merry Christmas.


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