a baby.

Quite often, attempting to believe that life isn't a tragic, repetitive loop of mostly warmed-over versions of days you remember being better the first time you enjoyed them, is rather difficult. 

As we get older, existence starts to develop this kind of stale patina, as disappointment, unmet expectation, sciatica, and the fact that we rarely end up becoming the versions of ourselves we once used as motivation to make it through that gangly part of middle school, all existentially weather us. 

Our souls limp. 

In some seasons the climate is softer and our lives more manageable. It's not as hard to get up in the morning, our knees don't ache, and the coffee is good. 

We can make it, just maybe more slowly than we once did.

Other seasons are 2016, and no matter what hard-lines we've taken in that great string of Internet arguments we all use to construct who we are and why we matter to the universe, it's been a terrific year for nihilism and defeat. 

Despite our own and Rev. King's best efforts, the moral arc of the universe seems only to bend in on itself and collapse in the wake of a seemingly endless stream of bad news and societal self-immolation. In this kind of season it can be difficult to keep knowing, to keep looking, to keep asking, and to keep going. 

I want to be done, I want to give up, and I want it to be okay that I tried and I failed to find meaning and purpose in all of this. That for my sake, and the sake of my family, I want to move to Florida in my mind (because, let's be honest, none of us under 40 are ever retiring), and spend my days retooling the golf cart I ride to and from the grocery store. 

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But then, as I always am when the season is darkest and the light barely warms enough of the day to melt the frost on my windshield, I'm invited to remember that God entered the world in the arms of an unwed young woman and her confused fiancé after a long journey to a backwater village on the underside of imperial power, religiously sanctioned violence, and historic unrest.

So, buck up, Christmas is here. 

The holy family (as they came later to be known thanks to the wide reach of the inflatable yard-art industry) isn't a baptism, an underline, for the world and all the ways life has and will continue to function for most of us. They aren't whispering to us that at some point this unchanging, exhausting trudge through existence will mercifully end, so get over it and get on with it, and in the meantime put your hope on postmortem layaway. 

So, buck up, Christmas is here.

The holy family isn't a quaint salvo, offering a Rockwellian Xanax to our threadbare grasp on why exactly it makes sense at all to spend the lion's share of our lives earning money to sustain the lives of other people we don't see as much as we'd like because we're earning money to sustain the lives of other people we don't see as much as we'd like (etc., infinity). They aren't whispering to us that "the holidays" are finally here, so enjoy some free time with people close to you...unless you work retail, and then that's what Tuesday afternoons are for. 

So, buck up, Christmas is here.

The holy family, as I came to discover during the birth of my own son, is a violent interruption and complete transformation of all the ways my life had progressed up until that point. When my son entered the world, he fundamentally changed it for so many people he had never met. In his first breaths and cries he brought the kind of stinging clarity (I won't call it belief, it's much stronger than that) to the ways that the gaping and incurable hole left behind by my own father could only be filled by giving him what I had always wanted, but never had. 

For years, even as a pastor, I wondered to myself: "How exactly does a wailing infant, even one with God's nose, change anything about the geopolitical realities besieging our globe?"

As a dad, I now ask: how could a baby not?

There's a kind of quiet resolve (peace, if you want) that comes from meeting yourself as a child. It's a chance to start again, even though you're incredibly cynical and your back hurts, not in order to leverage the life of your child to satisfy the lack you've grown accustomed to living with. This is what therapists call "destructive entitlement," and, I would argue, is the thing gripping our globe as each generation takes from the one coming after what it never received from the one they came from.

Destructive entitlement is why you spent your childhood taking care of your mom rather than your mom taking care of you. 

Destructive entitlement is why you've called the admissions office of your son's preferred college 4 times this week because DEFERRED ADMISSION IS UNACCEPTABLE FOR THIS FAMILY.

No, the kind of peace a baby brings to those paying attention, is the fundamental invitation to give radical kinds of love, trust, grace, peace, hope, joy, kindness, justice, and belonging that you never got to the tiny being in your arms, and this is the important part: WITHOUT EXPECTATION THAT THE BEING WILL PAY YOU BACK FOR YOUR EFFORTS. 

Because if he or she does (even if you named him Jesus), you've missed the point in all this. 

On a 30,000 foot level, the Christmas story is an invitation to parent the world in all the ways we wanted the world to parent us. The Christmas story is an invitation to nurture God in all the ways we wanted God to nurture us. The Christmas story is an invitation to enter into broken community, corporate, and family systems with a renewed resolve that only new life can bring, in order to swallow the hole inside of us by filling it with our gifts of love and trust freely given to others. 

and this is the important part: WITHOUT EXPECTATION THAT THE SYSTEM, THE WORLD, OR EVEN GOD, WILL PAY YOU BACK FOR YOUR EFFORTS.

The peace of Christmas isn't trite, isn't nostalgic, and isn't futuristic. It's sleep-starved, and scared, and thrilled, and full of inexplicable, spit-stained hope. 

In my experience: new parents limp, but they also beam. 

May you beam in the dark this Christmas season, because a baby has entered your world. 

 

 

 

*photo credit: Creative Commons