The last days leading up to Christmas, I feel so keenly the hardness of the road to Bethlehem.
It seems easier to identify with the realities of their situation, that venerated but simple couple, than to gloss over it with sentimentality. This is because my life has little gloss and sentimentality. I pursue it of course, with candlelight and delicious smells in the kitchen and having the kids gather round for readings, but daily we hit the wall of arguing and misunderstanding, the surprise of loneliness and the battles against disappointment, the frustrations of pollution and a city in a foreign country and the fact that in all our meager efforts to create unity and contentment, we just can't make it happen.
I find it easy to compare. When you think about all the actualities of the birth of Jesus, it is everything our lives are today: ordinary, humbling, frustrating, fraught with challenges, filled with situations that make you wonder, really, Lord? Is this the way you care for those who follow you? Surely Mary must have wondered that as the doors shut in their faces just when the baby she had born the shame of misunderstanding for, the filling and breaking of her body for, the burden of her whole long life of piercing for, was about to enter the world.
My little girl, in her five year old way of questioning, has asked me a few times in recent days, Mom, do you really believe God is taking care of you? I say yes. And we list the ways we see it. But in my heart, I know if I was really honest, that sometimes I too wonder. Lord, are you sure you got this?
That is when I lose the grip on comparing myself with Mary. And I think I want to. The gift of the Advent of Jesus is that something mysterious and incomparable, incomprehensible and impossible, happened on our earth in real space and time and history. What I need most in my hardest moments, in the day to day grind and the failure of my family, my friendships, my broken and dying world, is for God to step in. I need him to take care of things. To take care of my sinful and wayward heart. To take care of all the wrongs that are being done to innocent children and defenseless people. To turn the hearts of everyone to their Creator, to pour out love on us in such a way that we can do nothing but love him and everyone around us in return. To make me see the earth and all that inhabits it in the way that he does. To fill me with joy.
We all need something entirely outside ourselves to break in and rescue us.
When I think about Mary listening to Gabriel speak unfathomable words, the Shepherds surrounded by the glory of God on the hard ground of the rough earth they trod every day, Joseph gazing at a baby that looked like any other baby but that he knew beyond what would have been very reasonable doubt, was really God, I cannot put myself in that story anymore. This kind of thing doesn't happen to me. In fact, it just plain doesn't happen. It's the most unimaginable story, nestled in the most ordinary, relatable circumstances.
This is our life every day. Ordinary and difficult, humbling and fraught with disappointment. It's the old curse at work, Adam toiling and Eve in pain. But God steps in. He makes a way. Jesus really was born and lived a real exemplary life and died a real sacrificial death and rose in miraculous glory the way only a real God could. And He is really here, taking care of things right now.
So we can join with Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, the Shepherds and Simeon, and all the millions who have followed along in their steps, believing and worshiping. Immanuel! God is with us.