Each year, as the Christmas season approaches, I find myself being caught up in a sweet surrender to the mystery of the incarnation. I am overwhelmed with the thought that the Second Person of the Trinity lowered himself to live among us as the beautiful baby of Bethlehem, that he left the mansions of heaven for the warmth of the Blessed Virgin’s womb. This is the perfect love that heard the deepest longings of the human heart and came to earth to pour out his life on the cruel cross to free us from our fallen state of sin.
My three children are all grown now, one married, one a bachelor living on his own, and one a college student sailing on to greater shores. Still, as I sit in my recliner by the roaring fire, gazing at the tree so beautifully decorated with ornaments that sing our family’s story, I find myself missing those days when my three little miracles would rush down the stairs on Christmas morning to hand out their homemade gifts and open presents together as in times past. Nevertheless, the Christian life is journey that leads from the cradle to the cross, from the selfishness of sin to the greater glory of the throne of God.
Letting Go and Letting Grow
This bitter-sweet reality of our unfolding lives is but another wonderful reminder of the way our God turns the seasons of time for his beloved children, moving us moment by moment from faith to faith, as we walk the way of salvation from baptism to beatific vision. In my anxious father’s heart I want to hold on to those days when my children were babies and I shared in the wonder of watching them grow day by precious day. I covet those first words and first steps, the delight of discovery, the laughter and the tender tears, and the countless moments of incredible joy.
But the glorious truth of this story of salvation is that children grow from infant to adult, finding their own way along the road to heaven as they seek their place in this broken world. I find that I must let them go so that they may grow into the ones God has made them to be. As much as I cherish those early years, I am so blessed to be the one God chose to witness the unfolding of their lives; and at no time is this beautiful reality more present to me than during Advent and Christmas.
The Baby Who Came to Die – And Will Come Again to Bring Us Home
I have a number of nativity scenes around my home, including some my children have given me from ministry trips to other countries. These holy keepsakes carry me back to the days of my youth and the family crèche made by my mother’s father, filled with figurines representing the birth of our Savior on that first Christmas day. Those days for me were sometimes a struggle, as I grew from an awkward little boy into a man so blessed and yet so unworthy to receive the gift God has given me in my family. But I have learned through those difficult life lessons that we, like the Savior, were born to die.
That Jesus came as a little baby on a cold night in that lowly stable fills me with a wonder I find hard to contain. That he grew to be a man, to walk this weary world of pain and sorrow and bring his gentle touch and powerful words of love all the way to the cross, breaks my hardened heart and brings me peace. In celebrating the seasons of Advent and Christmas, we are reminded through the pages of Scripture that our Lord came the first time to give his life, so that he could one day come the second time to draw his people home. As we travel through Advent – and our life journeys on the narrow way of faith – we are moving ever forward to the day when all our longings will find their fulfillment at the Second Coming of our Lord.
The Fullness of Life Live Out for Us
From his birth, Jesus moved along the path of salvation as he lived out the purpose for which he came. The infant sighs that called to his mother for comfort became the cry of hope fulfilled when his purpose was completed at the cross. The tiny hands that clung to his mother’s breast were one day stretched out to take the nails for the sins of the world. The swaddling bands that cradled the Christ child were replaced by the myrrh-soaked cloths that wrapped his broken body as he was placed in the holy tomb, awaiting his second birth. Every moment of our Lord’s life was a living sign of God’s perfect and eternal love.
Advent unfolds with sacred symbols and tender traditions, just as the life of our Lord was the unfolding sacrament of our salvation. The Light of Heaven came to dispel the darkness. The Living Water overflowed from the True Temple to bring life to those wandering in the dry and weary wilderness of suffering and sin. The bread and the wine became his Body and Blood, broken and poured out in a perfect sacrifice of love from the cross. In him, all humanity was offered rebirth through water and Spirit. In him, the fullness of the Godhead spilled over into our lives to fill us with love, remake us in his image, and carry us home.
Building Temples and Seeking Satisfaction
After the Jewish people returned to the Promised land from 70 years of exile in Babylon, the prophet Haggai called them to stop building their own homes and return to building the temple in Jerusalem (Haggai 1:1-15). The people were creating personal temples paneled with self-importance and decorated with the trappings of this world, instead of dedicating themselves to restoring the holy place where God had come to dwell among men.
Jesus, the Word of God, entered this lonely world to build his temple among humanity. He called us to seek true peace and perfect surrender in the Kingdom where the least are the greatest and the weary find eternal rest. He spoke of the destruction of the earthy temple and the resurrection of his body, the true temple wherein the fullness of God lives. Only in him could humanity find salvation, satisfaction, and security in the glorious mansions Heaven.
We are temples of the Holy Spirit; and yet, how often do we build worldly temples within us where we worship our position or our possessions? Why do we care more about our self-worth and our fading glory when we should be preparing a throne in our hearts for the King of kings to occupy? We are like dirty mangers that no amount of earthly splendor can ever clean up; and yet, our Savior longs to enter in and make our hearts his home. Oh, that we would sweep out the dusty and dirty rooms of sin and self-satisfaction and make room for the Son of God to dwell forevermore! If we would but open the door of our lives and call our Savior to enter in, how perfectly satisfied and ever ready we would be to live out the Gospel of love in all we say and do!
Christmas Together Because of Him
Though our children are beginning to live their own adult lives, they are and will forever be so near and dear to our hearts. This Christmas, my daughter and her husband are flying in from Minnesota for 10 days. My other daughter, a student, and my wife, a teacher, are on vacation from their schools. My son’s company has shut down for the holidays, and I have used up the rest of my vacation days as well. What a joy it will be to be together, sharing this new stage in our journey and the blessed bond we have as a family of faith. The memories of years past will warm our hearts, even as the hopes and dreams of all that is still to come will carry us forward in grace and love.
And even when we separate once more, we will never be further than a phone call or a whispered prayer away. We will forever be joined together in the One who loved us enough to come as a helpless baby, walk the dusty roads with the lost, and struggle up Calvary’s hill to offer the fullness of his love to the Father, so that we too might grow in radiance as we reflect the image of that love in our lives.
The Longings Fulfilled as Life Gives Way to Love
Each year, as I call out in my heart for Emmanuel to come once more, for the reality of the incarnation to breathe new life into my shattered soul, I am transfixed on the stable, the star, and the story of the God who came to earth. But this incredible vision gives way to the revelation of a cross upon a hill, an empty tomb, and a Savior who will one day come in the clouds to call his children home. That vision brings a joy so deep and so powerful that we who hold on to tender memories of the past can surrender to the transformation that takes place in our souls as together we seek the brighter future that is ours as believers in Christ.
This is truly the lesson of the incarnation – that our hearts may become holy dwelling places for the Son, that we may learn to reflect the glory of God and grow more and more into his image throughout the trials and triumphs of our lives. There is great joy that comes in living out our stories as we are bound to the glorious story of salvation that is revealed to us on this path toward the Kingdom to come. This Advent, my prayer is that we may continue to be renewed moment by moment as we travel the road of redemption, pouring out our lives to the One who left his rightful place to pour out his perfect life for us, so that we could turn our longings into lessons of love on our journey home to heaven!