A few weeks ago, I was part of a discussion about how to have a meaningful Christmas. We never came to a conclusion, it was more just a time of expressing a desire and longing for something deeper, heartfelt, of substance. I left that discussion, and then proceeded to think about it for the next three weeks straight. I wanted an answer, and I didn’t have one.
The cliche “Jesus is the reason for the season” just doesn’t cut it for me – maybe because there’s not much truth to it in most places. Christians have a tough fight on this one, because there are so many other things competing with what is supposed to be the “true” message of Christmas. We say we’re celebrating the birth of Christ, but lots of the time, it almost gets lost in the food, the gifts, and connecting with family. Those are all good things, too – I realize in my own heart that I’ve come to see Christmas more of a celebration of love and generosity, not because I’m trying to overlook the birth of Jesus, but because Christmas is so outrageously loud, busy, and flashy, it’s just hard to see past all the other good things happening at Christmas, and focus on Jesus’ birth.
So for weeks, I’ve thought about how to bring back the meaning of Christmas, and I’ve struggled with it. I got stuck on wanting it to be the way it was when I was a kid – it was easy to feel wonder and meaning about everything, and Christmas was like pure magic, but when I looked up the definition of wonder, the problem became clear to me:
Wonder – a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
It’s hard to feel wonder at Christmas, because how much are we surprised anymore? Christmas only comes once a year, so for the first few years of life, it IS unfamiliar, but I’ve lost that along the way. I’m not surprised by the beauty, nothing feels unexpected. I had to come to the conclusion that wonder is not the way to feel deeply at Christmas.
What, then, could replace the awe and wonder of my childhood Christmases?
The answer came to me in the strangest of ways. It was a busy evening a couple of weeks ago, and I was feeling frazzled because Ben was recovering from knee surgery, and all of the responsibility of home and family were on me. I had to get Ben to a physio appointment, pick up my grocery order at Superstore, and get back to pick him up. As I was trying to get to the grocery pick-up spot in the Superstore parking lot, a woman came out of the store, walked into the middle of the road, and plopped her bags and large purse down right in the middle of the street, stopping traffic coming from both directions. I was concerned about her – surely something must be very wrong in order to cause this woman to stop in the middle of the road like that. She was kneeling on the pavement, and I watched her closely, trying to see what the problem was. She didn’t look hurt, so I started searching for spilled groceries – maybe a bag handle had broken, and she was gathering up food that had dumped.
But there was nothing.
Suddenly, she changed her position and I could see what she was doing – she was lighting a cigarette. She couldn’t even walk ten more steps to get to the side of the street, out of the way of traffic, to get that cigarette lit. Unbelievable.
I drove to my parking spot, and as I sat there waiting for my groceries, I had time to think. I was still marveling at the woman’s utter lack of regard for other people, but eventually my thoughts got quieter, and turned back to this issue I’d been mulling over for weeks about finding meaning at Christmas. Suddenly, the words “Make space” popped into my head. I’m learning to pay attention to those kinds of thoughts – the ones that seem to drop into my mind out of nowhere. I started praying about this, and asking God, “How do I need to make more space at Christmas?” Suddenly I was thinking about that woman again, and how she dropped everything, right where she was, because she couldn’t wait a moment longer to get what she desired. She didn’t appear to have any trouble “making space” in her life for what mattered most.
I held those words in my mind and heart over the next while, and each morning when I got up to do my devotions, they stayed with me. In my quiet, dark home, early in the morning, with the Christmas lights making everything feel cozy, I started reading the Christmas story. I got stuck on a few different verses, as I read everything through my filter – “make space”.
“She wrapped Him in cloths and laid him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
I pictured a busy inn, so crowded that there wasn’t even room for a pregnant woman on the brink of labor. In my mind, I could see how loud, full, and busy it must have been. But then I could imagine the little stable out back, quiet and calm, and even though none of us would want to have a baby in a stable, or spend the night, I could see how it became sacred ground that night, as it became the scene for such a holy moment – Christ being born, in the quiet night, with no one around, the star shining and Heaven watching. God with us, but nobody noticing, because everybody else was crowded into the inn.
And as I’ve thought about making space, I’ve been thinking about how we keep repeating this scene over and over again each Christmas. Even when we truly want a beautiful, meaningful Christmas, we somehow keep getting stuck at the inn, and can’t seem to make it to the stable out back often enough, or for long enough. That bustling inn is noisy and demands a lot of attention, but the quiet stable is removed, easily overlooked.
All the Christmas parties and gatherings and shopping and preparing are like the inn, bursting at the seams, all the people crowded in there, so busy they have no idea what’s going on in the stable.
These things aren’t wrong, but I want to find my way past the inn, and I want to spend most of my time in the stable. I’d rather hang out there this Christmas, and just wander over to the inn occasionally to check in with everybody and see what’s going on. But if I’m looking for meaning, if I’m trying to make space at Christmas, I’ll find it in the stable.
I picture the shepherds with their sheep, out in the fields on a dark, quiet night, when suddenly, the sky is filled with light and angels, and the shepherds also get to experience the miracle of that night. And it’s interesting to me that this also happens out in the night, away from the crowds. So the shepherds go looking for the stable, and for a time, they also enter into that holy space.
I don’t write this to glorify that space – the glory went with Jesus everywhere he traveled while He was on earth, long after He left the stable, but over and over again, people needed to choose to make space for Him, and lay aside all the things demanding immediate attention, to remember what was most important.
We know all this – we’ve heard it over and over again, every Christmas. Anika and I have been joking about how every Christian Christmas story or musical or movie has to be about the grumpy person who has forgotten the real meaning of Christmas, and needs to be reminded by the end of the story.
We know it, and yet we still find it hard to make space, because the inn is flashy, fun, exciting, and demands our attention. It is part of Christmas, too, but it’s not where I want to stay for the night.
So every morning, I turn on the Christmas lights, grab the coziest blanket in our living room, and I get comfy on the couch with my Bible to read the Christmas story again, and again, and again. Even though I’ve heard it every year of my life, I pray that as I choose to make space yet again, those verses will sink in, and speak to me in new ways. Every morning, I picture that quiet stable, on that holy night, and how everything changed in a moment when no one was paying attention. I want to soak it in, to stay in that space, to make room, to be paying attention.
I wish you a beautiful, meaningful Christmas, and I hope there will be many opportunities for you to slip away to the stable. Enjoy all the fun craziness at the inn, but make some space this Christmas for all that matters most.