Sometimes special dates slip by, unnoticed in the hustle of other things. Today, even though my family and I spent an enjoyable, full day at the Creation Museum, I knew underneath that what day it was. Today is my grandmother's birthday... The first one we have had without her. She would have been ninety-five if she had not passed away in March. I think it was a hard day for my dad, but he didn't say anything about it; just patiently drove us to and from the museum, treating us to dinner on the way home.
Sometimes I think folks forget that Christmas isn't all joy, peace, and cheer. For many persons, Christmas is a lonely time of year, an angry season, an unmet expectation, or a painful time. We feel more keenly the loss of loved ones, the inability to afford gifts, or the bitterness of disappointed hopes.
This Christmas in the Midwest feels more like Spring than Winter—with foggy mists, rainy nights, and bearable temperatures. It feels more like a long visit with my family than a holiday. It feels like anything but Christmas. There are a myriad of reasons for this, one of which is the loss of my grandmother. I sat in, or near, her pew by myself on Christmas Eve, holding back tears. Not only was my grandmother's place empty, but my Dad decided not to attend with me this year. I'm glad he didn't, because life has been hard enough for him the last two or three years—he didn't need to be sad on Christmas Eve, too.
So, I inhaled sorrow co-mingled with the joyous annunciation to the shepherds that a Saviour was born unto them—those rough, smelly, unnoticed men. To them, the ones who lived on the fringes, beneath the lower class, out of the minds of nearly everyone—outcasts. Yet, not cast out by God. He remembered the lowly and forgotten shepherds. He remembers still those on the fringes of society, the edges of church sanctuaries, and the ones separated from everyone else by grief, loneliness, and heartbreak. God remembers. He gently nudges those of us who feel like outcasts, reminding us that all those years ago, the Timeless One stepped into time to be the Saviour of the world. And that is what He is, still. In the midst of the pain and disappointment that separates us from feeling like it's Christmas, God is with us—Emmanuel.
This Christmas feels more like Spring than Winter—perhaps this is God's physical reminder to us that new life is stirring under the mud and dirt. We must remember that the grave is not the end. Even things that seem dead and buried might be raised to new and beautiful life, like Spring flowers. Perhaps I am naïve, or put too much faith in impressions, but the winds of change seem to be blowing away the ashes of this last year to the four corners of the earth. In the soil of hearts and relationships, the life of the Spirit of God is breathing. He is stirring up the earth 'round the roots of the good seed and bulbs of Truth—life is wriggling beneath the surface of the new year.
New years themselves are the edges of one season blending into another, of one year gracefully giving way to the next in the Great Dance. Sometimes the sadness in our lives slowly fades into joy, without us knowing the moment of transition. And sometimes new life is breathed into dead hearts and relationships. As G. K. Chesterton explains:
"...boundaries are the most beautiful things in the world. To love anything is to love its boundaries; thus children will always play on the edge of anything. They build castles on the edge of the sea, and can only be restrained by public proclamation and private violence from walking on the edge of the grass. For when we have come to the end of a thing we have come to the beginning of it."
Said another way: fringes and edges are where change is occurring. New beginnings are at the boundaries of old endings. The shepherds on Bethlehem's hillside were on the cusp of a new life, of seeing the world turned upside down. Surely they remembered the night that angels rent the heavens with the news of a Saviour in those silent, dark days. So, too, at Christmas we remember the hard, the dark nights, and the loss—but those horizon line is drawing near and we are coming to the first word in the first chapter of a new beginning. Let us remember, and look forward with eager expectation to what Jesus has set before us.