– Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas
My parents like to tell the story of the Christmas that Santa delivered a Barbie Dream House under the Thompson tree. It turns out, Santa doesn’t much like staying up to 2am putting tiny sticker decals on tiny pretend kitchens. Santa has never really forgiven me for that. There aren’t enough milk and cookies in the world.
Here’s the thing that I should never admit: (Santa, skip on down) I don’t remember wanting a Barbie Dream House. I don’t remember asking for it. I don’t remember putting it on my Christmas list.
But the gift came and it was perfect, my Barbies and I were so excited. I completely forgot I ever wanted it.
This is the first year ever I can’t seem to muster up holiday cheer. This year has been brutal, and brutal might be the nicest word here. Just today, I left a hard, hard meeting, came home and fell on my kitchen floor and wept. It’s December 19th. There should be a little more holly jolly around these parts.
The nativity narrative is messy and chaotic. We’ve done a lot of sanitizing with our manger scenes. The travel to Bethlehem, the birth on a dirty floor, fleeing the country, terrifying angels. This, set against a backdrop of longing and waiting. Years. Decades.
This morning I prayed, “I know you are stretching and growing my faith far greater than what I thought it could be. I’m honestly thankful you have taken so much away so I really only have you left, but I need a break. Relentless faith without sight has wearied me beyond words. I need eyes to SEE today. Just for a second. Can I see you?”
Four hundred years of those prayers. I can’t imagine.
In the middle, there is a baby king. A baby. Right there. He came. He came.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary. She actually carried the answer to decades of prayers in her arms. She physically held a promise fulfilled, the very answer to a prayer she prayed for so long. Years later, she would watch a brutal death of that same promise she once held in her trembling, feeble arms. But a resurrection came. He came.
Honestly, I’m still waiting for life to come from death, as are many friends. It’s ok. Simeon was “righteous and devout, waiting…” (Luke 2:25). Surely Simeon never expected the Messiah to be a tiny baby with a teenage mother. But he came. A baby in the middle of the mess.
This Christmas, many of us will carry a whole heap of longing, not yet answered prayers and a lot of grief through the doors of our family homes. It’s a tender time. We are all nativity-story messy.
When the waiting breaks, when a promise is fulfilled, it may not look like what we think. It may be a hard right turn from what we are praying and – let’s be honest – begging, but he comes. That’s what the Lord does, he comes. He cannot not come to his kids. Light dawning on those of us living in the shadow of death.
So why Advent? Why in the world do we celebrate a not-yet-coming? It is only because the Lord’s answer was so perfect that years later we can celebrate the hundreds of years of silence. Without the birth, we would never look back on the dark quiet and be thankful. Sarah Bessey asks, “Would we be so filled with joy at his arrival if we weren’t so filled with longing already?” Maybe not.
I pray that when the Lord dawns light in our darkness – whether it is through yes-answers to prayers or simply that he shows up with buckets of peace to our weary souls – the ache can fade, just a little. The gift of his coming is so perfect we would celebrate the years of longing.
Friends, if you are a little worse for wear this Christmas, if what you feel is too much to bear, if you are limping into the most celebratory time of year, I am praying you will have peace in the simple truth, He comes.
There is a verse in Hebrews that says Jesus first came for us sinners who wouldn’t possibly be able to get it all together (all of us). The next time, he comes for waiting souls who know longing, who are acquainted with grief. That’s me. That’s you. So we say to our voids, “Come Lord Jesus.”
We know you will. You always have.