In which I’ll never be ready for Christmas

This past week as I’ve been out doing errands, several people have asked me the same question: Are you ready for Christmas? I know they mean shopping and baking and what-not, but I can’t help thinking, is anyone ever really ready for Christ to arrive in their world?

And yet, ready or not, Christmas comes. Jesus comes. And if I offer the slightest opening — hey Jesus, you can have that stinky corner in the barn — if even that, he comes in and makes himself at home. And if I open the door a little wider…well, he’s likely to turn my life upside down. It’s hard to be ready for that.

I need it, though. Every year. Every day, even. And maybe it’s good that Christmas is a ready-or-not thing, so that despite my unreadiness — despite my hesitations and doubts and fears — if I crack open my heart to receive the Christ child, Christmas happens, and I’m never the same again.

In which my life is a long and shabby Christmas letter

I love getting those traditional recap-of-our-family’s-year letters from friends at Christmas. I really do. I want to be clear on that, because I’m now going to totally diss them.

Most of those letters are lies.

Oh, I believe the stuff they say really happened. But I don’t believe it’s the whole story. Maybe people think I don’t want to hear the rest of it, but I do.

I have one relative who sends refreshingly honest letters. She just puts it all out there. Like, kid A really messed things up this time, but man, I love him so much. Or, from someone you wouldn’t really expect to be okay with her kid being gay, my son and his boyfriend found a great new apartment…. There’s no hiding, no only showing what she thinks will impress others.

Ah, there it is…impress others. Is that why so many letters go wrong? Are people trying to impress me with how great their kids are turning out, how great a parent they clearly must be? Probably not. They’re just proud of them, that’s all…I get that. But it’s so much more intimate, so much more relationship-focused, to pour it all out together. (Isn’t that why we send letters? To nurture our long-distance relationships?) When you trust me enough to share the less-than-impressive stuff, it means you know I love you and your kids, no matter what. It means you know I care, you know I want the whole story, and you know I’ll understand and accept that whole story.

Which brings me to this: I think living as a Jesus-follower can be a little like that—like letting our lives tell the whole story, being honest about our faith and our doubts, our good days and our bad, our moments of grace and our moments of judgment. Because how we present ourselves to God is a little like writing a Christmas letter. And since I know he loves me, since I know he wants my whole story, I can be honest. I can trust him with the good, the bad, and the ugly, pouring it all out at Jesus’ feet.

He sees that mess of a story on the ground before him, and despite it – or because of it – he bends down and kisses the top of my head. He says, I love you, too.

In which I am a tree

I attend a mainline church. I fit there, more or less, but it’s not about me and my comfort level anyway. So most Sunday mornings, I escape from beneath a week’s worth of baggage and head to church. The worship service is a blended style, one that suits both the happy-clappy folks among us and the more traditional Holy, Holy, Holy folks. (Whether it suits The Almighty I’ve no idea.)

Personality-wise, I’m one of the happy-clappers, but some of the music aimed at my kind really freaks me out. We dare to sing phrases such as show me your glory and send down your power. I tend to skip over such phrases, and as the people around me lend their voices to these prayers, I’m thinking holy shit, people! do you have any idea what you’re saying?!

Surely if God blasted us with the full wattage of his glory the flesh would melt from our bones and ooze all over our blended-worship hymnals (I’m picturing some Raiders of the Lost Arc gore here). And seriously, send down your power? The whole world would be crushed.

Maybe the song-writers really meant just give us a wee glimpse, God, but even then, I’d be leery. It’s not that I think God’s just sitting up there waiting for an invitation to zap us (if he was going to zap us, he wouldn’t need an invitation). I really believe he’s good and loving. I believe he’s big on grace. So why do these lyrics give me pause?

The thing is, I think they make God too small. They feel a little too comfortable, a little too casual, as if we’ve forgotten that God can not be contained. As if we’ve forgotten who it is we’re worshipping. In her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard wrote about how, when we attend church, we ought to wear crash helmets and be lashed to our pews. That makes complete sense to me. And yet, I’m left trying to reconcile my inclination to strap on a helmet with my happy-clappy need to praise Jesus.

There’s a banner at the front of my church with an image of a tree engulfed in flame. The tree is burning, yet it’s beautiful, green, and alive. The words Nec Tamen Consumebatur are written above the tree. I believe this translates to yet not consumed. This morning as I looked at that banner, I thought, I am that tree. All of us here—we’re that tree.

We are the burning bush. We can dare to invoke God’s presence, dare even to call down his glory and his power, and when it comes, somehow, miraculously, we are not consumed. This is only possible because God is big on grace. Big on glory and power, yes – incredibly so – but bigger still on grace.

So, maybe next time I’ll sing those words, or maybe I won’t. Either way, I’ll stand in awe of my dangerous God and his exorbitant grace.