The Christmas season is upon us….again. It sort of snuck up and pounced, as it always seems to do. There is so much going on, both in our personal lives and on the world stage, and that makes it a challenge to truly feel settled and ready to face yet another holiday season. I don’t know if it’s truly the state of the world, or just my inability to keep up as my plate continues to fill up, but each year finds me increasingly bogged down as I try to run around completing an impossible task list while trying to summon the energy to add gift shopping, menu creating, party planning, extra church services and (oh, the horror) seasonal decorating to the bundle.
In addition, the media is increasingly full of negative, divisive and sensationalist stories….while decreasing the air time of Christmas specials, Rudolph and Frosty, and cheery classics. In this day of corruption and frustration and literal as well as spiritual disease, we search desperately for something pure and constant to cling to. There is such a sense of despair and negativity in our nation, our community, our world…. I know there have been many cycles of this throughout history. It’s hard to live in them, in the times when people are tired and discouraged. There is a pervading sense of disappointment and cynicism – towards almost everything. It can get crushing if we let it.
And yet….. We don’t have to let it, do we?
This past week, Emry’s preschool had it’s annual Christmas performance. This, too, popped up on the calendar, catching us unawares, mostly because I hadn’t paid all that much attention to it on the original beginning-of-the-year master list of events. Before you judge me for this lapse, let me vindicate myself with an explanation. The reason we didn’t mark it in red on our schedules was because of last year’s experience. We didn’t even go last year. When the time came for the program I was so excited to plan her turn on the St. Paul stage (Drew always had a special little part when he was in it, little ham….and had played one of the three Wise Men/Kings his last year there; Luke was an air maracas champion in his years during their rendition of Feliz Navidad). The day I was going to take her shopping for her Christmas outfit, she informed me in very clear terms that she would not be participating in the show. When pressed, she had very little explanation as to why, just that she would not be singing. Period. She didn’t like being on stage and refused to even entertain the thought of singing or smiling in front of an audience. Despite the fact that she is literally my mini-me, I sat blinking at her and wondering how she could possibly be my child. I thought I was quite clever when I told her that if she didn’t sing, none of us would go. I had no desire to sit and watch other people’s pre-schoolers sing if mine didn’t. Her answer was, “Fine.” Problem solved. We missed our first performance in years. Ouch.
I had no expectations of this year. So imagine my surprise when my spunky little non-conformist came home and informed us that she was so excited about her pending performance and special part in it. She kept mentioning Baby Jesus, and holding him and waiting for her turn to walk in, and practicing songs….. As it turned out, those brave souls at her school cast her in the role of Mary. I was floored, a bit proud, and more than a little hesitant. She tends to have her own ideas and interpretations, our little Bug…..plus, she really doesn’t like to be put in the spotlight (I still have no words for this) unless it’s in a very controlled situation. And, you know, sassy isn’t a strong enough word to describe her. Serene and obedient, not so much. The day of the performance, one of her teachers told me she clinched the part because of her ability to remember and follow cues without prompting….and because she wasn’t likely to pick her nose in front of everyone. Fabulous. Glad to know she aced the casting call.
The morning of her debut, we talked about it the whole way to school. We reviewed how fun it would be, and how cool it was she was such an important part (even though her Mary costume choked her), and how she would do her part just like in practice no matter what (apparently, Baby Jesus had a wardrobe malfunction the day before in rehearsal when she dropped him and his cloth diaper fell off…prompting the staff to safety pin his clothes on…..no one needs a nativity story that involves the Savior of the world mooning a crowd), and how the whole family would be there to clap for her and take pictures, etc. She was quite taken with the idea of being the center of the universe for an evening, but a little nervous about being in front of an audience (seriously – how did her dad’s genes trump me there?). I just kept staring at her, thinking, “How is she big enough to be doing this?”
We took up an entire row in the beautiful little chapel filled with parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, family friends and anyone else roped into coming. There were cameras everywhere and babies cooing or crying as they became restless five seconds after settling in to wait for the show to start. There were the inevitable children who cried until they ran off the stage or were walked to sit with their parents. There was shuffling around as we jockeyed for video recording position. Performers looked anxiously around until they found their people, then stopped whatever they were supposed to be doing to wave enthusiastically or shout, “Hi, Mommy!” The sound of children singing filled the air, and the characters of the nativity entered as cued by the lines of the story. Adorable young ones trooped across the stage dressed as stars, angels, sheep, donkeys, wise men, an inn keeper, Joseph and, finally, Mary.
She was the cutest thing ever, our beloved Mary, as she entered oh-so-seriously, carrying her precious cargo. Never mind that she held the doll the way you or I would carry in a load of firewood…..it was darling. She walked to the center of the stage and stood by Joseph, holding the baby carefully, and then placing him in the manger right on cue (no drops, no clothing issues). And while I wouldn’t classify her as the most enthusiastic singer up there, she stayed her ground and participated the entire time. All of the nativity participants were amazing sports, posing for a plethora of pictures at the end of the pageant. They even smiled for most of them.
If you ever need a reminder of the magic of Christmas, go watch children perform the story. There is no better cure for a worn or fretful heart.
As I stood in that chapel, these words were stamped all over mine.
John 3:17 – For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
I watched and listened to all of the people around me. I watched friends and family smile and laugh and hug. I watched babies and toddlers being passed from person to person, getting kisses and hugs and smiles galore. I watched proud parents and grandparents take pictures, pose for pictures and exclaim over their tiny thespians with giant smiles and boundless zeal. I watched teachers beam and students preen under the spotlight of accomplishment. I heard greetings and goodbyes and laughter and conversation. I heard the Father’s children, gathered together in His name, acknowledging His birth and presence and gift to humanity, as they enjoyed each other in His house.
I watched and listened. And it was perfect.
Because it was exactly the point. God sent His Son to us, through unconventional means, in the most humble beginning imaginable, so that we could be saved. The story is simple, yet no less amazing because of that. The facts are easy to remember, easy to repeat, easy to teach. They are supposed to be, so that anyone can learn them, even a small child. Or perhaps a rushed and frazzled adult.
No one in that lovely chapel seemed rushed or frazzled in our time together. There was peace, not in the form of quite, but in the absence of restlessness or confrontation. There was joy, as we laughed and loved and celebrated the birth of our Lord in through the accomplishments of our children. There was hope, as we gazed on our little stars beneath the lights of the Christmas stage, and let them guide us into the Spirit of the season. We were a family, if only for that moment, catching a glimpse of what that is supposed to feel like, what it will feel like when we carouse with the actual guest of honor someday.
I was so grateful, and so humbled that night.
I continue to be so, as we rush headlong into the final days before Christmas.
The perfect plan deserves nothing less than our best….but our best according to what His plan meant.
In my rush to check off lists and create the perfect meal and buy the right gifts and perpetuate traditions, I am convicted to celebrate in the way Jesus envisions. To stop and breathe, and thank Him and remember that He came and why. To love my family and my neighbor, and remember just how much He loves them – as much as He loves me. To cherish togetherness and bonding, and to spread His light as I run from place to place. To embody joy, and pass on this message to my children in a way that is real and tangible and permanent.
To know the reason for the season in a way that I live it, truly live it, in every fiber of my being. That, my lovelies, would be the best gift of all.
Solidarity, sisters. May your days be merry and bright.