“May I call you Aunt?” he inquired. “You are my sister.” she said.
And so, by God’s design, He expands families beyond blood and bone, as far as our love will reach. Sometimes all the way to Syria and back. This year, we find ourselves together, sharing the fresh new mercies of your first Christmas season in America. And I sit cozy in my oversized chair, late into the quiet night, wondering how to communicate to you what this holiday means to me.
Last week, you stood in a long line of customers waiting to purchase holiday happiness. There was ice cream in your cart—in the winter. Some American cultural norms are pretty easy to embrace. And I smiled.
I explained, “Christmas is the most important holiday in American culture.” It’s lights and trees and decorations, cookies and candy, parties and programs, stockings and presents. It’s family and friends hopping planes and driving white knuckled road trips on icy winter nights to be together around a warm and inviting living room fire. And you’re sure to see a white bearded Grandpa in a red velvet suit holding crying babies on his pudgy lap while mother’s snap photos for Facebook. We call him Santa Claus and legend goes that he flies around in a sleigh on Christmas Eve dropping presents down chimneys for good little boys and girls. People greet one another saying, “Merry Christmas” and everybody listens to music that tells the story of all we love and believe about this holiday.
I drove you to your new home, all warm and comfortable, the one you are forging a new life in. “I feel safe here.” You told me that just yesterday. And after unloading your bags, we kissed each other on the cheeks and waved as I drove away. At my house, I plugged in my tree lights and lit a candle for ambience then selected my Spotify playlist entitled “Christmas”. Randomly, Frank Sinatra crooned the classic favorite “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” as I scrolled down my Facebook feed. It was right at the dramatic conclusion of the first verse of this well loved hymn, where he sings,
that I glanced down on the article titled,
“Aleppo has Fallen.”
And I groaned, thinking of you, grieving for you, angry with you.
I’ve heard your story, the one that brought you here to us, at least bits and pieces of it. Enough to know that you feel nauseating tightness in your gut when you read about starving friends held hostage in their homes while radical extremists and henchmen of a cruel dictator utterly destroy your beloved country and its people.
Heaven knows you need Comfort tonight.
Really, we all do.
Maybe for different reasons but everybody feels the broken of living under the curse of sin.
A broken world.
And we’re all thirsty for a long drink from the fountain of Joy even though we often settle for cheap imitations, like the happy delight of a gift under the Christmas tree. Webster’s defines joy as a settled state of mind and orientation of the heart that results in contentment, confidence and hope.
And the mysterious paradox about Christmas is that it’s the only Comfort that can bring us Joy even when all hell is breaking loose around our busted up, broken down, divided world.
You see, the real Christmas story starts back more than two millennium ago when after 400 years of God’s silence to His prophets, He speaks and the sound of His voice is the whimper of a newborn baby that He names “Immanuel” which means God With Us.
And in this lavish act of miraculous affection, God wears skin. He intentionally chooses to live in our stories. He puts on sandals to walk in our shoes. And every beat of his human heart says, “I love you.”
And that is the real reason I celebrate Christmas every December.
That baby we call Jesus, He understands displacement because he left His home in heaven, abandoning all it’s glory.
He introduced himself to humanity humbly in the womb of a virgin.
His first home was a feed troth lined with hay in an old barn shared with livestock.
His family fled their country pursued by an evil despot breathing death down their necks.
And that’s just the prequel.
Read past Christmas in the Bible– Matthew, Mark, Luke or John- and you find Jesus living an itinerant life, misunderstood and misrepresented by respected members of his community, speaking truth and doing good until He is falsely accused, framed and crucified at the hands of intolerant religious zealots threatened by His non-traditional ideas about kingship.
The Bible says,
He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all.
He was oppressed and treated harshly,yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned, he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
that his life was cut short in midstream.
But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.
But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,for he will bear all their sins.
I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.
Isaiah 53: 3-12
And so Christmas introduces us to this God-man.
The One who understands our sorrow and feels our grief.
That part is the Comfort.
The One who came on the scene intentionally and with a plan to restore the broken relationship between us and God, and accomplished his task lovingly, perfectly, courageously and victoriously, offering us the gift of peace with God and hope for the future.
That part is the Joy.
There is no gift under any tree that could equal the true gift of Christmas because
“God’s gifts puts man’s best dreams to shame.” E B Browning.
A few weeks ago we decorated your first Christmas tree together. The twinkling multicolored lights sparkle as brightly as the potential for your future and there are countless reasons to celebrate, to anticipate and to hope this Christmas season. But the best reason of all is Jesus, Immanuel, God With Us.
And I can’t wait to see what He will do.