The Christmas story was part of my family tradition. I’d heard the Christmas story countless times, growing up in the church as I did. I’d been to many Christmas Eve services–-it was such a tradition in my life that I couldn’t imagine Christmas Eve without it. Taking communion, singing Silent Night, lighting candles–it was beautiful, it was touching, but for years it did not sweep me away with its allure and power. It did not leave me questioning the ways of the world, yearning for a new heaven and a new earth, or actively seeking God’s will in my daily life. I came to Christmas Eve Service, and I left. And I went on with my life as it was.
I’ll never forget the dizzying joy I felt at the tender age of 18 when I began to realize that God loved me, Mary Tuomi, with a deeply personal love. The generic love of God for the human race became the personal love of God for me. The story that belonged to countless generations over two thousand years became more than tender moments in the church year. It became my story as well.
Christmas has never been the same since. I’m not a very liturgical person–but when it comes to the Advent season, I revel in the opportunity to spend four weeks contemplating the mysteries of the Incarnation, God-become-flesh. A baby is born in a stable to an unwed mother! Angels, and shepherds, wise men and the dangerous King Herod. God’s high drama is on the loose!
Sometimes we question our significance. In the grand scheme of things, who are we? What are we? We are like a puff of smoke that vanishes; from dust we came and to dust we return. And yet, the God of the Universe visited planet earth in the form of one named Jesus. That same extraordinary Jesus lived an ordinary life. He put up with everything humanity had to dish out—the good, the bad, the ugly, the indifferent, and the infuriating. And he loves us. Loves us! Honestly, really, tenderly, deeply, fully, magnificently loves us. Personally, powerfully, profoundly loves us.
Can you take it in? Some days it is hard to love ourselves, what alone open ourselves to the love of God! That love seems unbelievable at times, doesn’t it? That’s the magnitude of grace–sheer grace. A gift unearned, simply offered. Have you ever received a Christmas gift from someone unexpected, someone you didn’t buy anything for? “Oh, you didn’t have to get that for me!” you protest. “Why did you get me a gift?” And the other person responds, “Just because.”
That’s God’s love. “Just because.”
One of the exercises my Spiritual Director has me doing is spending time just “showing up” before God. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. I am explicitly to come with no agenda–no petitions, no praises, no nothing. Just me and God, time to refocus and just be together. As a pastor, it is amazing how easily prayer time can become functional time–time for others, time for sermon reflection, time for gratitude, even time for struggle. But to just show up–to bring nothing before the Lord but myself–it is humbling, it is illuminating, and it is good.
Today we light the candle of love. If you are longing for God, in love, to reach out to you and call your name–God is here, waiting for each one of us to “just show up” today. Let us linger in God’s presence, and see what surprises await us!