Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cue the heavenly hosts


Now that Thanksgiving is out of the way, I am really looking forward to Christmas.

Before you judge me, let me reassure you I do love Thanksgiving. I love having a quiet day filled with warm smells from the kitchen, family from near and far, and a chance to take stock of all my blessings.

But on Friday morning, with a credit card in one hand, my phone in the other, and nothing but a slice of leftover pie for breakfast, it starts getting real.

Shopping for deals, hauling tubs full of decorations out of the basement, finding the perfect tree, flinging net lights over my bushes out front (and then turning them around so the burnt-out side doesn't show from the street and we can squeeze one more year out of them), keeping the cats out of the tree, hanging the mistletoe (which I just remembered to take down last Easter) - all of this and more can be accomplished in those few extra days off work Thanksgiving provides.

This is what the holidays could mean to me.

If I stopped there.

But that's just the fluff. The fancy, shiny, sparkly fluff that gives me warm fuzzies when I drink my coffee in the mornings with only the Christmas tree plugged in for light.

If we have lived through at least 15 Christmases or so, we have learned that shiny, sparkly fluff doesn't pay our bills. It doesn't help us lose weight or heal broken relationships. It doesn't thicken our hair, and it doesn't cure cancer.

It's just fluff.

When life is pulling out all the stops and really letting us have it, "Merry Christmas" can feel like a slap in the face if we're only looking at the fluff.

I'm glad God didn't drop a lighted Santa statue, or a turkey with stuffing, or even a stocking full of chocolate, in that manger a couple thousand years ago.

Because that wouldn't have done much for me last year when my five-year old dog had just died from lymphoma and, while she was suffering, I had a suspicious mammogram and had to go back for another test. And another. And finally a biopsy. Then, to top it all off, I developed a case of shingles and had an itchy, painful rash on my face for weeks.

There was nothing merry about that Christmas season for me. At least, not when I focused on the fluff.

But every time I stopped to consider what was actually given to me in that manger so long ago, I was humbled and awed in a deeper way than ever before. Because there, in the midst of fear and doubt and tears and sadness and even a little anger, the beauty of what happened back then in Bethlehem shone brighter than all the fluff.

Even though this year has not brought me the same stress, I still need a fresh reminder of what's behind all the fluff. I'm another year older, my back hurts a little bit more, and the world has only gotten crazier.

Cue the heavenly hosts.

Hidden away in an unimportant town in front of a bunch of unremarkable guys, thousands of angels interrupted the tyranny, sickness, fear, and death that makes up this old world to announce a joy and peace so unbelievable, so all-encompassing, so unexplainable, they just could not keep silent.

I want them to come back.

On that very first Christmas, God became like us. He cried and needed his diaper changed. He tripped and skinned his knee. He thought his mother loved John more (well, maybe not). He was human right along with us, in this world full of beauty and tragedy, joy and pain, hope and despair.

Because of that manger and its eventual path to the cross, every day can offer a measure of Christmas joy. And I don't have to drag it out of the basement or replace any burnt bulbs.

And as for those heavenly hosts?

If I listen hard enough and sit still long enough, I think I can almost hear them. Reminding me. Encouraging me. Cheering me on.

And that won't fade away in January.

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