A Christmas Meditation

Ten years have passed since I wrote the following post. Much has changed, yet some things seem like they haven't changed at all except that I'm a decade older. My words back then were written from the heart; I knew them to be true and felt their depth. Today that depth has deepened further through struggle, through growth, through loss, through gain; by God's grace, which has carried me when I could not carry myself; and through his love, which has remained constant for me when I wondered whether he was even there, and if he was, whether I mattered to him at all.

My hope—particularly if this Christmas is not an easy one for you—is that this meditation will speak to your own heart, encourage you, and help you to see Christmas in a different light.

JESUS

Christmas Eve. As an older single male, I'm spending it alone. I would like to say that in reality, I am not alone—and really, that is the case. My Lord is with me. Jesus. But when it comes to polishing off a large bowl of chili (heated to a well-seasoned glow by a sub-lethal dose of Dave's Insanity Sauce), followed by a generous helping of spaghetti, all designed to take the edge off a bottle of 9 percent ABV old ale and another bottle of 11.5 percent Trappist ale . . . well, the work has been strictly mine. No one sits with me in my humble, though comfortable, apartment to make supper and the partaking of craft brew a shared effort. I am by myself—as are many who will read these words.

Yet, as I have said, He is here. Here in these modest digs of a solitary, middle-aged male. And because He is here with me, I trust He is also there with you, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances may be.

Some of you are grieving the loss of a loved one. Others are simply experiencing, like me, another "single" Christmas Eve by yourself. You have friends, and if you're fortunate, you have family, and you're thankful. But there's still something missing, isn't there?

It's all right. He is here with you and me. Emmanuel, "God with us." And in a strange way, those of us who feel sorrow, or loneliness, or a poignant emptiness in this Season of Light, may be closest of all to the heart and soul of what Christmas is truly about.

For you see, that little baby who was born into the lowliest of circumstances two thousand years ago didn't come for the sake of inspiring cozy traditions, or warm exchanges of gifts by the fireside, or happy family meals. No. Those things are wonderful, and I wouldn't detract from them for anything. But their absence in the lives of so many of us lies closer to the reason Jesus was born.

He came not because this world is so wonderful, but because it was, and is, so broken. He came for those of us who long for a place called "home." He came for the lonely, for the disenfranchised, for less-than-perfect you and me who know firsthand the meaning of loss, and tears, and struggle; who long for something more in life. He came to give us that "something more." He came because he knows how deeply we long—and need—to be truly, safely, securely, and lastingly loved.

I write with all the freedom that a couple bottles of high-potency ale can inspire, tempered by my editorial instincts and guided by my heart, which is consumed with Him. But who is He? In this day of well-publicized "new discoveries" of the same tired old heresies that have sought for centuries to recreate a more convenient Jesus, the marketplace of ideas abounds with options. I just Googled the name "Jesus," and on the first page of search results I find the following:

    * three full-color graphic images of Jesus

    * a "Christmas Jesus Dress Up"

    * a YouTube clip of Jesus singing "I Will Survive"

    * an online Catholic encyclopedia article on Jesus

    * a BBC news article that begins, "A statue of the infant Jesus on display near Miami in Florida is being fitted with a Global Positioning System device after the original figurine was stolen."
Clever, all very clever. But when you're alone on Christmas Eve, cleverness doesn't really cut it, does it? For so many of us who are by ourselves tonight, the one thing we long to know is that we're really not alone. The older we get, the more that matters.

So perhaps, after we've wearied our clever minds exploring all the alternatives, the Jesus of the Bible really is what we're looking for after all—because of all the gods available in today's spiritual shopping mall, He is the only one who has come looking for us in a way that is consistent with someone who cares not about religion, but about us. To be born in our midst and commit a lifetime to experiencing everything about the human condition, from inglorious start to brutal finish, certainly smacks of a genuine and very personal investment.

Christmas is God's way of acknowledging what all of us instinctively know (though we try so hard to argue otherwise): that this world is fractured, splintered. That we are lonely. That we are lost. That we long for something more. Christmas is God's way of saying, "My loved ones have lost me, and I have lost them. And that is unacceptable to me."

This Christmas . . . you are not alone. I am not alone. Jesus came for us. If you've screwed up your relationships, Jesus came for you. If you've been sexually abused, Jesus came to clothe you with dignity and hope. If you're lonely, He came to give you a place at the family table. If you've been betrayed or abandoned, if your heart is filled with pain and anger from the lashes of an unjust, uncaring world, He came to hold you gently with arms that will not be removed. If you're_______, He came to fill in the blank with something better than emptiness.

This Christmas . . . we are deeply loved.

So to you, my friends, however you may believe and whatever your circumstances may be . . . may He fill this time with the reality, the glory, and the comfort of Himself. Have a blessed Christmas.

—Bob

A Christmas Eve Meditation

What a beautiful day this has been! The trees, coated these past few days with ice and frosted with snow, today were transfigured by the light of a brilliant December day. Whole forests looked as though they were made of glass, radiant and, at times, depending on which angle you viewed them from, almost blinding. Then this evening the clouds moved in, and with them, the fat, downy tufts of snow that Christmas card landscapes are made of. On my way home from doing a little modest shopping in Hastings, I took a detour through a favorite area of mine out in the countryside just to see what the snow and ice had wrought. As I finally headed home westward on 100th Street, the trees thinned out and the landscape opened up into a vista of broad, hilly pastureland rolling away into the distance toward the wooded hills of the Middleville State Game Area along the Coldwater River. The failing light filtered through swirling snow that softened the view, blurring winter's sharp, black-and-white geometry with gentle grayness. It was perfect, as lovely as one could possibly hope for. I felt as if I were driving through a moving postcard. "Thank you, Father!" I said. "It is so beautiful." "Merry Christmas, Bob!" he replied. I wrote the following Christmas reflection earlier today for my mother, sister, and brother Pat. But having shared it with them, I would now like to share it with you as well: It is afternoon on Christmas Eve, and I am thinking of you and the gift that each of you is in my life. I love you, each of you, very much. Yet I know that my love often falls far short of what I wish it was in wisdom and self-giving. And there are ways in which each of you sets examples of love that humble me. I recently finished writing a chapter in my book that is all about love, and it kicked my butt. It is hard to write about a subject I'm so far from excelling at. Thank God, there is a higher love than mine or than any of ours. Because we all fall shorter than we wish we did. So it is reassuring to know that there is a star that rises higher than ours and shines more brightly. "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Jesus spoke those words to a religious leader who came to him by night many centuries ago. I've read different thoughts on what was going on inside that man, Nicodemus. I think he was simply an honest person searching for something more than what he had and who recognized that something in Jesus. Today, we're so familiar with John 3:16 that we can quote it on a dime. But to Nicodemus, Jesus' statement wasn't a Scripture verse to memorize and quote. It was fresh, part of a personal conversation with an extraordinary man. God so loved this world. He still does. And that, really, is what Christmas is about: God's love, not ours. Because the best of our love is still pockmarked with the worst of our limitations. I need look no further than myself to know it's true. Even if I think otherwise, I need only read the news. Is there love in this world? Yes, thank God, there is. But this is not a very loving world. It is an angry, complex, and broken world whose fractures continue to multiply as our knowledge increases. This is the world God loves. The world Jesus came to bring life to. Because the world clearly does not have life in itself--not the kind we need. It took the "Word made flesh" to live the kind of life we could never live on our own and then offer it to us as an inheritance. There are many things that Jesus was and is. This Christmas, in this card, I wish you, my loved ones, the riches of his life and the guiding star of his love. A Merry and Blessed Christmas to you, Bob

Christmas in Heaven

Merry Christmas, friends. I'm sitting here in my La-Z-Boy couch with a mug of rather potent eggnog that Lisa has made. The rum in the eggnog is speaking to me in a manner that disinclines me to write a lengthy post. Yet it is Christmas Eve, and I must say something. I am tired of the political correctness in this country that insists on squelching what Christmas is and has always been about: a celebration of the birth of Jesus. I have no issue with recognizing and respecting people's right to practice non-Christian traditions, though I do not subscribe to them. But our thin-skinned culture of today attempts to patronize all faiths simultaneously with a naive and stifling syncretism that respects none of them for what they really are. This is Christmas. And in honor of what Christmas is about, I thought I'd share with you a poem by the wonderful British author Adrian Plass. I find it honest, eloquent, moving, and beautiful, and I hope you will too. Christmas in Heaven By Adrian Plass When I’m in heaven Tell me there’ll be kites to fly, The kind they say you can control, Although I never did for long. The kind that spin and spin and spin and spin, Then sulk and dive and die, And rise again and spin again, And dive and die and rise up yet again. I love those kites. When I’m in heaven Tell me there’ll be friends to meet In ancient oak-beamed Sussex pubs Enfolded by the wanton Downs, And summer evenings lapping lazily against the shore Of sweet, familiar little lands Inhabited by silence or by nonsenses, The things you cannot safely say in any other place. I love those times. When I’m in heaven Tell me there’ll be seasons when the colors fly, Poppies splashing flame Through dying yellow, living green, And autumn’s burning sadness that has always made me cry For things that have to end. For winter fires that blaze like captive suns, But look so cold when morning comes. I love the way the seasons change. When I’m in heaven Tell me there’ll be peace at last, That in some meadow filled with sunshine, Filled with buttercups and filled with friends, You’ll chew a straw and fill us in on how things really are. And if there is some harm at laying earthly hope at heaven’s door, Or in this saying so, Have mercy on my foolishness, dear Lord. I love this world you made—it’s all I know. When I’m in heaven Tell me there’ll be Christmases without the pain, No memories that will not fade, No chilled and sullen sense of loss That cannot face the festive flame Nor breathe excitement from the ice-cream air. Tell me how the things that Christmas should have been Will be there for eternity in one long, shining dawn For all of us to share. I love the promises of Christmas.