Last night I was reading this post over at Rocks In My Dryer. If you've never read Shannon's blog, I encourage you to start, but do it with caution because you'll never turn back. Anyway, reading that wonderful post coupled with watching The Nativity Story with my husband really got me thinking about my own feelings on Christmas. I could never write about my experiences or my thoughts with the grace and poignancy that "Rocks" does but somehow felt the need to discuss, nonetheless.
I've never had a white Christmas before. It's alright with me because Jesus probably didn't either. While snow isn't unheard of in Bethlehem, it's not common, even in the dead of winter. And, in all probability, the Savior was born between May and September, the months during which the great census was taken that brought Joseph and a very pregnant Mary to Bethlehem to begin with. This lack of snow was never a problem, Christmas was, in a word, magic.
I remember Santa Claus. I remember because one Christmas I laid awake for hours with the extreme need to pee. I knew that if I got up I would do so at the precise moment that Santa was leaving me gifts. I also knew that if I saw Santa he would take away all my presents. Where I got this idea that Mr. Claus was a mean-spirited present deliverer I'll never know. But I finally couldn't take it anymore. I flew to the bathroom and back. Santa didn't catch me and I had presents in the morning. I remember the calendar my mom hung in the hallway. Each day a little bear climbed all around that calendar looking for Christmas in every room of his house. On the 25th he finally found it. My brother and I had to take turns moving the bear or else a bloodbath was sure to ensue. I remember that childhood magic because it was almost tangible. It was inside the Christmas decorations. It was in the quiet whisper of the music. It flickered in the flame of each advent candle.
We had Santa. We had stockings and cookies and presents. And we had Jesus. I would stare at my mom's beautiful nativity--the one I would accidentally but carelessly break as a preteen in what stands as the greatest Christmas travesty of my life--and look at each of the pieces, wondering about their role in that most holy of nights. What must those shepherds have thought when the glory of the Lord shone around them? What did Joseph say when the son of God was placed into his arms for the first time? When did the wise men get there? How must Mary have felt as she knelt by the manger?
We still have Santa and stockings and cookies and presents. And, oh, do we have Jesus. It's just that I look at the nativity in a much different way now. I've been to Bethlehem. I've seen the caves that were used to shelter the animals. Not surprisingly, they look a great deal like a tomb. They were dirty. The shepherds, who came to see glory for themselves were, in all probability, filthy. The animals, I'm sure, weren't fresh and clean. Yet this is where the Father sent his Son. From the highest of high to the lowest of low. And I no longer think of Mary as she knelt honorably beside her son. I don't really believe it happened the way we see it in a nativity. I think Mary was the dirtiest of them all. I think she was exhausted. I think she was irritated that there were cattle and sheep in the vicinity, much less the same darn cave as her tiny baby. So, sometimes, when I am setting up my nativity, I want to lay Mary down in the corner. I want her to be overwhelmed by the situation. I want her to cry. I want Joseph to tell her that everything is going to be okay. I want the wise men on the other side of the room because they didn't come right away. It took them longer, like the process by which some of us come to know the Savior that they sought. I want the baby to stare, with wide eyes at his mama, perhaps knowing that he would one day deliver her.
More than snow, which I may have for the first time this year, more than Santa and more than presents, I want to feel the magic and the miracle of that first Christmas. And my breath catches in my throat if I think about what it must have been like for Mary to feel the son of God moving inside of her womb. My own son, fallen and fallible, was miracle enough to overwhelm me. I wonder at that first moment when they locked eyes. Was it as mother and son or as mother and Savior? Did he look more like her or did he personify the Creator of the Universe? Did she swell with pride or did her heart break when she looked upon God's holy and almighty face?
Regardless of how I want to display my nativity, what doesn't change is that born in a barn, the centerpiece of perceived scandal, surrounded by filth, sharing his birthday with shepherds and livestock then and disbelievers and Santa Claus now, cooing softly in a feeding trough was the wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.