This is a belated Merry Christmas, because we’ve spent the past five days without electricity, television, or the internet. It was, in hindsight, a good thing. A blessing. Out of necessity, our plans had to change, Christmas was reconfigured a bit, and all our expectations flew out the window as a large part of Michigan was powerless in the aftermath of an ice storm. But there were glittery trees that sparkled in the cold sunshine, slow moments of connection with family members and friends, and a forced break from some basic technologies we rely upon (washing machine, dishwasher, hair dryer) that reminded us how blessed we are to lead such privileged lives.
Before the storm, we managed to cram in a visit to Santa for L and cousin Rhyse. It was epic.
We made our traditional expedition to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth with my mom and sister Amanda. L couldn’t get enough of the Christmas trees, Santas, and life-size nativities.
She also loved bonding with her teenage auntie.
We drove back to Grand Rapids in the aftermath of the freezing rain that had coated most of the state on Saturday night, to find almost everyone in GR was experiencing a power outage. My own carefully laid plans for last-minute shopping, baking, and gift wrapping on the 23rd and 24th were rearranged as we loaded up our truck for the second time, and moved from E’s parents’ house to his sister Heather’s, where we spent the next two days watching L and her cousins romp through the house, happy just to be together with plenty of time to play.
The traditional curry dinner on the 23rd saw us crammed around Heather’s kitchen table, elbow to elbow, as we tucked into E’s mom’s East African-style pork. We crowded into our nieces’ bedroom for the night while the kiddos happily camped out on couches, excited to have family to stay. The next morning, Heather and I escaped for a quiet hour at Panera Bread, where we sipped coffee and visited in a cozy booth before the fireplace, then tromped through the icy air to the grocery store to buy some last-minute gifts and the makings of Christmas brunch.
Thanks to the generous loan of a generator, E’s parents welcomed us back on Christmas Eve, which meant yet another loading and unloading of the truck, and after a Chinese dinner, our nieces came along to spend the night. They helped me make Monkey Bread and Baked French Toast for Christmas morning, and I made them hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles to sip while they watched Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer on the portable DVD player. I stayed up until one o’clock wrapping gifts, something I’d planned to do the day before. It all felt very rushed and last-minute, but good too. I’d run out of time, but all the truly important things had happened.
At eight o’clock on Christmas morning, L toddled blearily into the family room, her still-sleepy eyes growing wide as they fell on the lit Christmas tree, surrounded by what must have looked to her like a veritable ocean of gifts. Throwing her arms wide, she smiled and exclaimed jubilantly, “Pwesents!”
I looked at her sparkling eyes, tousled her baby curls, marveling at how just a year ago she was a tiny infant, and I thought, Jesus was like this once – a laughing, growing, beautiful little life. A tiny person like her, but so much more: God incarnate in the body of a wee one.
Within an hour, family members began to arrive, and everyone piled into the family room for a chaotic round of gift-opening. L, who has no memory of Christmas 2012, was enthralled by the steady stream of new toys, and kept throwing up her hands questioningly, asking “Mowah pwesents?”
After brunch, I snuck away to read the last of my advent devotions, in Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift. The reading for the day was from the second chapter of Luke, and it struck me deeply. An angel of the Lord visits shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in the hills outside the town of Bethlehem, where Mary has just given birth to Jesus, and tells them:
“The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find the baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.
“[The shepherds] hurried to the village, and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart, and thought about them often.”
Mary kept all these things in her heart, and thought about them often.
And we ought to do the same. The words of the angel, the story of the shepherds – we should think of them often, as Mary did. Because Christmas does not end on December 25. Christ came to be with us, and he never leaves. For the believer, the one who knows him, it is always and ever Christmas.
We ought to always be rejoicing, celebrating, giving thanks for the Savior’s birth. We ought to always be giving in the spirit of his love, not just in honor of his birthday.
Today, in the aftermath of the rushing and rearranging, in the wake of the power outage that turned our Christmas plans upside down, all I can think about is the Savior of the world who was born to set us free. It is no myth. It is no charade, no farce, no conspiracy theory. The Creator of the world took the form of a baby and came to lead us all to everlasting life. Praise the Lord.
Merry Christmas, dear friends.