For God is With Us

There is a beautiful nativity scene in my church back home that depicts a town journeying up the hill–market men, shepherds, old and young, rich and poor–all climbing to the stable where Mary and Joseph gaze longingly upon their infant in the manger. The cattle and sheep lie still as they look upon the place where Jesus lies.

About halfway up the hill there is man, no doubt trying to hurry to reach the stable, eyes fixed on the crest of the hill. But the camel he leads has his head turned directly upwards. Eyes fixed, not on the stable, but on the star. Staring at the shiny object, totally unaware of what is going on around him.

Sometimes I feel like that camel.

All throughout Advent I tried to prepare for Christmas. I read daily reflections, tried an Advent Examen, and went to Lessons and Carols at churches.  I loved it. I loved the feeling of anticipation that saturated Advent, the readings of Isaiah, the Advent wreath, everything!

And then when Christmas came it was all too easy to see that things were not perfect. There is an ideal Christmas. It’s all over the commercials and movies and in the fabric of our society. It’s the perfect dinner with family gathered and everyone laughing and exchanging gifts and singing carols.

I have yet to see a Christmas that fulfills this ideal.

When Christmas came I wanted to keep staring at the beautiful star that is lighting the way, instead of paying attention to all the imperfections going on around me. I wanted to be that camel, standing there, just looking at the star, oblivious to the lived reality and focusing instead on the ideal.

And like the wise men, I am still looking at the star, following it, trying to come to terms with the manger where it leads.

A dirty, smelly manger where animals eat.  Itchy straw and swaddling clothes where Jesus sleeps. Busy malls and family bickering that fill Christmas-time. These are the broken places where Jesus came. It seems vulgar that our Lord came here, like this.

I wanted Christmas to be as beautiful and shiny as the star that continues to blaze. The star that I don’t want to tear my eyes from, because then I would see the reality of the brokenness of this world.

But if I keep looking at the star, I’m going to miss the manger.

As glorious as the star is, blazing night and day, finding rest over Bethlehem, it pales in comparison with who came. As beautiful as the star is, the manger is indeed more beautiful.

Just like the wise men, I want to gaze upon the glory of the manger. To lay my gold and myrrh, my joys and praises next to the manger. To offer what I can to make the manger as captivating as the one whom it holds.

But this year I also want to embrace those broken things. To lay down the family fights and unmet expectations, all the pain and disappointment that comes with living in this world. Because Jesus came to be with us there, too.

The brokenness is indeed glorious, for God is with us.