The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives. -Albert Einstein
When the kids were tiny I procured a Little People Nativity Set. I’m not sure now how hard they are to come by, but twelve years ago it was a chore to obtain our plastic little gathering of happy players. Over the years Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, farm animals and wisemen have ridden on a bus with Mr. Potato Head, they’ve been fed countless treats, and traveled to places I will not mention. My children, now teens, no longer play with these toys, but I display them each year as a reminder to seek and protect childlike wonder.
As many of us know, this year the wonder is hard to find. Christmas feels like an obligation and a trudge rather than a time of celebration. I go through the motions, attending parties, buying gifts, decorating but the wonder is distant, disposed.
My brother Jeremy came to town last week. He brought two of his three boys, Zack and Sam, to Colorado for a long weekend visit. Both are wonderful nephews. I love being an auntie. I love knowing I can rile them up and hand them back. Zack (8) is gregarious and brilliant, filled with exuberance and questions. Sam is a thoughtful four-year-old who sits attentively while playing Legos. His spirit is peace-filled and kind, a curious child with remarkable demonstrations of love, his hugs could soften the harshest of humans. As the observant middle brother of three boys, it might behoove us to pay close attention to Sam someday. He is going to have things to say that we will want to hear.
Upon arrival, Sam made a beeline for the plastic Nativity. My careful display included Mary and Joseph attending to baby Jesus, with the barn animals and wisemen arranged neatly in a semicircle. The angel held his post above, keeping watch over the scene below.
Sam didn’t care for my adult neuroses. He took every figure, one by one, except the baby, and lined them up with toes touching the plastic edge of the manger. Each shared a front row view of Jesus, feet and bodies pressed together, shoulder to shoulder, straight and perfect and equal.
As I write this, news is flooding out of Aleppo, the city decimated by Assad’s forces, bombs pummeling, women and children dead and dismembered in the streets. I check my USA Today App to learn more. The lead headline under “Top Stories” is: “Dow Closes at Record but Doesn’t Top 20,000 Yet,” followed by additional headlines about the wildlife refuge occupiers, and Trump trying to run his businesses alongside a nation, and a preacher ranting to kids at a mall that Santa doesn’t exist. I scroll through two pages to find any mention of Aleppo.
The baby has to be enough. The baby has to be the answer. The baby has to be the hope, the healing, the rest for the world’s weary souls. The baby has to deliver on this promise, because it seems darkness bleeds as light dims. Suffering tries to win.
In the violence of birth, darkness precedes light. The terror and the wretched pain generate blood pumping through veins, cries piercing the nighttime chill. Life wins, Love wins. This baby, this boy, teenager and man. The Savior, our Savior – birthed into this world. Light grows and darkness wanes. Love beams down.
And I stumble upon remarkable things that display a generous hope, that reignite my wonder:
The moon this morning, framed by leafless trees, sinking downward absorbed by mountains.
A run with my friend, hashing out the difficulties of life and how far we have to go and how far we have come. A pride and grace flowing from our sweaty heads and pounding feet.
An early morning conversation with Eric over coffee, the room lit only by the tree, random ornaments from Christmases past reminding us of childlike and wonder-ful times.
Jesus’s arrival to earth, God in skin, is not for my benefit alone, but for the world. Jesus’s birth and life and death is so we have something to hang onto, when the weight of the burden is too great to bear, when the pain of the suffering doubles us over, when the fear threatens to close in and we cannot breathe. Jesus is the weight, the depth, and we get to line up, toe to toe, in front of his precious body and proclaim our worship, our adoration, our need.
Nothing else works.
Bodies bent and broken, minds filled with fear, hearts yearning for relief – this is where Jesus does his best work. This is where we find our wonder. Waiting, yearning, hoping, praying, seeking.
The Child will lead us.
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”
–Matthew 5:1-12, The Message