A funny thing happened at church on Christmas Eve – I felt the presence of God. Funny because it was like He and I were sitting on a sled, He was in the back with his arms wrapped around me, both of our feet were on the front bar and I held the rope. But we were just sitting there looking out into the pitch darkness. I couldn’t see a thing, darkness can be scary as there is the ever present fear of the unknown, but I wasn’t afraid, God was there. I rested back into His chest and arms, hoping the sled wouldn’t move because the ride would be too short and then it would all be over. So there we sat at what seemed like the top of a hill looking out into a black nothingness.
“You have a question for me.” He said.
I thought – ‘do I?’ then realized, oh no of course He knows. Embarrassed, I said “The meaning of Christmas…. I’m trying to come to grips with it, I know that I know, or should know, but I’m…I don’t know…I’m not for sure.”
“I put up the decorations, listen to the music, read the devotions…but still…I’m not for sure.” I pause for a moment, then continue “I love the traditions, the gift giving, the ‘glow’ of Christmas…but still, I think I’m seeking something more.”
“I Googled ‘the meaning of Christmas’ but there was so much and some of those really religious people confuse me even more. Or maybe they made me angry and I don’t want to be angry at Christmas time.” “What’s that all about” I say more to myself that God, because maybe if I knew the answer, it would make it more difficult.
“I find that we – or I – put more meaning into the story of Jesus’ birth because it is such a good story and then there is the rest of his life, ending with forgiveness and salvation and all of that because of his death….” I trail off, realizing that it sounds so feeble talking to God about His son dying when He knew all along.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry about your son….” Silence.
“Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” Silence.
“God,” “Yes.” “What is the meaning of Christmas?”
“You are asking the wrong question.”
Okay, I rethink my question, “God, how is the birth of Jesus as a baby supposed to make a difference in how we relate with You?”
“You are asking the wrong question.”
“Why, why did You do it this way?” Silence. It feels a little chillier and maybe my mind’s playing with me, but it seems a little darker too.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to question you….” We both laugh at this, because that’s exactly what I meant to do; and He opened the door to this frail interrogation.
“Okay God, what is the right question, what do I need to ask You?”
“I do not want you to ask me anything.”
I pushed God too far. I feel awful. Sigh. Silence.
“What I would like for you to do is to just sit here with Me and be quiet.”
Silence. These moments of silence at first were uncomfortable or I would find myself making to-do lists, rehashing and reliving scenarios, flitting thoughts here and there, asking questions and then only staying around for half-answers.
“Shh, quiet your thoughts.”
”That is so hard to do; maybe You should have made that the 11th Commandment, “Thou Shalt Quite Thy Thoughts.” Oh, I find myself so witty. I can feel God half-smiling.
“Actually, I made it the first one.”
“You are the Lord, my God.” Emotions well-up in me as I deal with guilt and shame.
“Shh, quiet. Look…”
I peer into the darkness, squinting I see the start of something – it is a tiny glow, barely visible, but there. Leaning forward I try to understand what my eyes are seeing as it is not a normal glow that is recognizable as a candle or light. There is more to it than light; it is as if the glow has a consciousness, a being…a soul. Without words to describe it, all I can do is feel, experience it and it feels like what love and joy and hope should feel like if one really knew what they felt like. This glow radiates peace. I know better than to look at God, but I can feel a teardrop on my head. I hold His hand to my heart and say “Shh, it will be okay.”
“Yes, it will.”
It is so beautiful. I feel something; a small kernel of the light has pierced me and inside there is a genesis forming; I’m not for sure exactly what it is but I feel that I may be on the way to illumination. And I feel desperately wanting, but so very undeserving.
“To find the meaning of Christmas, we need to take away a few things.”
“Okay, I can do that.”
“Take away Santa Claus….” “Oh, I like Santa Claus!”
“I do too. Take him away. Now take away all those Hollywood Christmas specials….” “That frees up a lot of time.”
“Umhum, now take away all those Christmas carols and decorations,” He pauses “including that Christmas tree.” “Wow, that’s taking away all the fun.”
God continues, “Now take away the baking, parties, and gift-giving.” “Yeah, but God, if you take away everything, then it’s not Christmas anymore.” I stop, realizing how stupid this sounds.
He continues, “Take away all that you assume that you know about Jesus. Take away all that you have read about the life and death of Jesus. Take away all of his miracles, all the healings, all the messages, the stories, the parables; all the Scriptures quoted and written; take away all the music, songs, carols; take away all the prayers, devotions and studies.”
God stops for a moment to let this sink in. “Now, take away all you know about Christmas: take away the angels, the shepherds, the Wisemen; take away Zechariah, Elizabeth and John; take away the prophesies; take away Bethlehem; take away the Nativity, the animals, the star; take away Joseph and Mary. Take away the baby in a manager… God pauses as I cry trying to accept and comprehend this, the sense of loss is almost overwhelming,.
“Take away all that you believe about Christmas. Take away all that you believe you need.”
“But God, if everything is taken away everything, what is left?” God puts His hands on my head and points it forward, “The glow.”
It should feel like nothing is left because it has all been taken away, but then the glow creates a new dawn in me.
“…and just be quiet…” “…and know that You are God.”
And with that, it was over. In the passing of a few seconds of mystery I think I’ve come to understand just a little bit better the meaning of Christmas. I opened my eyes in time to light my candle and join in singing “Silent Night”. This moment in worship always touches my heart, but this time my heart feels different as I hold my candle high and sing with joy and love and hope and peace of “…loves pure light…”
The meaning of Christmas begins before the story starts as we know it so well from Luke Chapter 2. It begins here: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:1-3)
And here: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
We live in self-imposed darkness when there is light. We live in a chaotic world, overly stimulated, overly distracted, overly trying to achieve something that resembles success or happiness or normalcy or balance or a combination of any of these. Peace is not the absence of war; it is the presence of chaos. Too often we choose chaos because it is exciting, or maybe because it is familiar. During Christmas, the chaotic state gets worse. If only…if only, we could just be quiet, at peace, and know God is God we might not only find meaning in Christmas, but meaning in life.
Silent Night, verse 3
Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, loves pure light
Radiant beams from Thy Holy Face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!
Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!