It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! With fresh-cut trees, spiced drinks and gingerbread cookies, it’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas, too.
The surest sign of the season in our home is always Christmas music.
“What can I give him? Poor as I am. If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part.”
That was the first carol running through my mind this Advent, although I tripped over that “What I can give him?”
It was a child-like voice deep inside wondering – tilting her head, fiddling with a blank sheet of paper, tapping the pencil to her lips trying to figure out just the right thing. This voice and the image of a younger and simpler version of myself – still very much alive at times – has stayed close of late.
Not remembering the carol’s actual name, I looked up the lyrics and was reminded they are the last verse of the “In the Bleak Midwinter.”
That younger version of myself ready to “give him my heart,” was startled by the chilling first verse:
“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan; Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow on snow.”
As daylight shortens and clear, cold nights settle in and the early-hung Christmas lights are small beacons of cheer. The post-autumn bleak and drab landscape welcomes the fresh blankets of snow.
Even with “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” jingling in the background, the words might clash with other dissonant sounds of the season. Bleak, frosty and stony headlines in the news. Icy and uncomfortable conversations at dinner tables or over the phone.
Thoughts begin to race as a text message dings and notifications require a change of plans. Racing and rushing seem to be the adjectives describing the frantic pace of pendings and preparations – those evenings the blackness seems to close in like a whiskery blanket, oppressive and unnerving.
The adult in me starts to buckle down and pull up her bootstraps, ready to face the challenges like a wooden toy soldier – numb to the deeper stirrings; but that hope-filled voice tugs again at my shirttail.
“Sit here a minute,” my inner child says. “Don’t rush or you’ll miss the sparkling wonder in my eyes, the Christmas longing in my voice. Don’t miss the magic of pure faith.”
Harkening the adult-me to contemplate the simplicity, I hear again to call to look inside. To remember what Christmas was like when I was a child.
The anticipation, the innocence and unassuming joy of giving handmade gifts with a heart full of excitement. The unsullied soul who didn’t keep track of time – who imperfectly wrapped gifts but also loved the details of decorating and setting the table with fancy plates and candles.
Inside and yet outside of myself, I feel this child-me take my hand and lead me to the tree. We sit in the dark and quiet, our ear is tuned to hear the angels singing peace on earth. My mind races but I look and see her lips mouthing as her head sways, her heart uttering the words as a prayer.
That prayer rises and swirls as the steam she sees rising from the animals’ breath like incense near the manger. It doesn’t have to travel far as she knows what she was told to be true – that baby is God.
It doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t need to. She is just there in the moment, still; her senses awake. I watch her extend her arms to receive Baby Jesus from his beaming mother. She cradles and rocks him – watches Mary, tired and leaning into Joseph’s arm snug around her shoulders; notices the way they look at the baby; sweetly smiles as their eyes move to meet her own.
Shivered with goosebumps, I am jolted in my imagination as I hear Jesus’ adult voice. He motions to this younger version of myself, reminds me the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these; that those who receive the innocent and uncomplicated child, receive him.
It is this Messiah who invites me to integrate this trusting child inside with the adult version of myself. To allow her trust and hope, her sincerity, her vulnerability to breathe life into the stoic heart and pragmatic mind that adulting sometimes requires.
As Advent comes to a close, I invite you to take a moment and accept the invitation of your own Christmases past. Contemplate your most wondrous Christmas wishes, the simple gifts and the magical moments from.
What childhood hopes and dreams have you left wrapped for too many years? What prayers, petitions and offerings to the Baby Jesus have you left unsaid from long, long ago?
What hymns and carols moved you in early years – what message can they herald for you this Christmas?
In what ways have you kept the waiting and the wonder alive? What child-like part of yourself is the Prince of Peace hoping will open the door to a renewed experience of the hope and peace he comes to bring this Christmas?
Try to imagine your own child-like-self uttering the words, “What shall I give him? Poor as I am.”
Look and listen. Sit still and sense. Look deeper. Listen more intently.
What stirs in your heart? Lean in and hear the baby Jesus whisper what He has come to bring you this Christmas? What gift he hopes you are bringing him?
May we all rediscover, in the twinkling lights and beautifully wrapped presents, the light and presence of Christ in ourselves. May we find it by renewing childlike faith, trusting hope and simple love. May we find this innocence and goodwill not only in ourselves, but in the children and grandchildren among us and especially in the hidden child-like parts of those we love – inviting them to look and listen with renewed hearts as well.