Note: Not all my posts contain reflections on my Christian faith. This one does. A gentle heads up in case this is not your cup of tea.
“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.”
Or today. Not long ago.
Today it is as exactly as described.
Dark. Cold. Grey. The wind mean, moaning for hours.
Snow is falling.
Branches crack against the house.
Ice forms on the ground.
It is bleak. Very bleak.
And welcome. At least for me. It is a great excuse to stay inside with a good book or have a netflix marathon with your mom.
A time to pause. To take stock. Or something like that.
My thoughts wandering around, and then, without warning, I cry. Small gentle tears.
It gets me this winter. Or gets to me.
About a month or so ago I wrote about embracing fall and moving on into winter.
Well here it is.
Maybe it’s the New Year approaching. Or maybe this bleak midwinter makes me reflective and melancholy.
No hiding from your heart here. No distractions.
Hauntingly beautiful as it is.
A soul pauses.
Tears come again.
By now most of you know this year wasn’t my favorite. That my family is dealing with hard things. That my heart took a beating. That many questions remain unanswered.
Get in line I say. Yada Yada. That is nothing compared to what others went through. What many are still going through. Some dear friends.
In this quiet desolate place I remember that.
And something else.
A word that has been slowly creeping up on me for months now. I saw it everywhere. It kept leaping up unexpectedly. Refusing to let me go. Unearthed hope in a buried heart that refused sunlight. Knocked around in my innards. Touched my cheek in the morning. My lips at night.
God with us.
God with me.
In my prayers, thoughts, reflections, readings and conversations there was one clear word that branded itself into my flesh.
God is with me.
He keeps saying that. Over and over again.
Which is good, I learn by repetition.
During the heartache, trials, tribulations, questions and now winter, He is with me.
What Christmas is all about.
Or supposed to be. By now, no doubt, you may be suffering from a eggnog hangover. Or tired of the piety speak of what Christmas is all about.
Forgive me. I am going to be speak too.
I don’t usually like the holidays. I could Scrooge you for a few paragraphs as to why, but I won’t. It is mostly about stress, busyness, loneliness, keeping up with the Jones, materialism and fake a face of cheer.
Never about Jesus, or Immanuel, as I will call Him.
Now, truth be told, I had a lovely Christmas this year.
There were concerts, parties, great memories and an abundance of joy.
And something else.
It is fitting that as I write this my mom pops her head in and asks if I want the Christmas lights turned on.
I am sitting in the dark.
Sure I say.
A song plays in the background “ Breath of heaven, lighten my darkness, be forever near me.”
And then there is light.
Not just for me, for the world.
Christmas reminded me of that. I don’t think I had forgotten, I just didn’t remember.
Or maybe I never really knew.
The wise men knew. They followed a star.
At the Christmas eve service this year the pastor said it was fitting that is was a star these mysterious men from the east followed. He said that on this earth darkness never encroaches in on light, it is always light encroaching its way on the dark.
Yes, that’s right.
The shepherds knew.
You may say they had it easy with angels and all. I am glad they had it easy. Someone had to.
I am glad it was the lowly. Sounds about right. I am glad the angels shouted, “Glory to God in the Highest.”
I want to shout it too.
Mary didn’t shout. She pondered.
She knew. So did Joseph.
What brave people they were. God doesn’t always make things easy for the faithful. Easy is never a part of the bargain. Miracles are though.
So is grace.
Grace for a wretch like me.
I woke up on this bleak midwinter morning with a song in my head. It took me awhile to get it from the background to the front of my thoughts. But when I did, this is what I heard:
How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
I am God’s treasure? Seems highly unlikely. And yet that is what Immanuel says.
That is what Christmas says.
That He came to this winter of a planet as a vulnerable, helpless baby, where sin, death and darkness reign and decided to be with us.
He chose to put it all on the line. And later would put it all on the cross.
He finished it. Christmas marks the beginning of the end of pain, suffering and death.
A light from heaven lit up the world.
I am reminded of this light this year. Especially this year, when words became empty and fears took form. When I wanted to cry and scream and run and hide at times.
Immanuel was there. With me. With us.
Christmas. Real Christmas.
Isn’t that what we need?
God to come into our wars, destruction, sorrows and fears and says I am with you?
To hear we aren’t alone. And not only that, we have purpose and meaning. A hope and future.
And Loved. We are completely wholeheartedly loved.
Glory to God in the Highest.
The song goes on.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom
A soul pauses again.
Do I? Do I know that with all of my heart? I am not sure.
I know I am grateful. I should give you a gift. A Christmas present.
What can I offer you? Nothing that I have is worthy of that kind of sacrifice. Nothing comes close. Nothing that a saved wretch can offer her king. Her savior.
I can’t repay you. I know I can’t.
Maybe I should just ask.
What do you want for Christmas? …
What did you say?
You talked so gently I missed it.
I couldn’t have heard you right.
Immanuel, you paid my ransom and in return you ask for my heart?
What do you want with that broken thing?
How about Frankincense? Or my Gold chain? I am not sure where I can find Myrrh but I will find out.
Shoot, I will even learn a tune on a drum if it makes you happy.
My heart huh?
Parts of it I can give to you no problem. The shiny, new, faithful, loving, all of the 1st Corinthian 13 and fruits of the spirit stuff. We can stop there.
Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart. I will praise the Lord with my whole heart. I will give thanks with my whole heart.
We can’t stop there.
All of it?
The parts that got broken and beaten and battered and hated you sometimes?
The parts that are so disappointed? So fearful?
Every single dark corner, nook, cranny, old dreams, new ones, disappointments, loved ones, cherished memories, dirty thoughts, envies, angers, compassions, graces, dreams?
The best and worst parts of me?
A soul pauses.
Time for the gift exchange.
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.
I didn’t have time to wrap it. But here you go.
You smile. You love it. It is just what you wanted.
We sit side by side listening to the wind.
In this bleak mid winter He is with me.
And He didn’t stop there.
But this I know with all my heart. His wounds have paid my ransom.
No tears this time. Just awe.
My dad’s music plays in the background from his office. It is Kenny G. Roll your eyes if you like but I happen to love some of his Christmas songs.
I glance at the Christmas lights.
My broken, imperfect grateful heart full.
A saxophone plays. “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Thank you Mr. G.