It’s Christmas night.
The midnight hour has chimed and I should be asleep, but I’m awake. I’m kept awake by one stunning thought. The world was different this week. It was temporarily transformed.
The magical dust of Christmas glittered on the cheeks of humanity ever so briefly, reminding us of what is worth having and what we were intended to be. We forgot our compulsion with winning, wooing, and warring. We put away our ladders and ledgers, we hung up our stopwatches and weapons. We stepped off our racetracks and roller coasters and looked outward toward the star of Bethlehem.
It’s the season to be jolly because, more than at any other time, we think of him. More than in any other season, his name is on our lips.
And the result? For a few precious hours our heavenly yearnings intermesh and we become a chorus. A ragtag chorus of longshoremen, Boston lawyers, illegal immigrants, housewives, and a thousand other peculiar persons who are banking that Bethlehem’s mystery is in reality, a reality. “Come and behold him” we sing, stirring even the sleepiest of shepherds and pointing them toward the Christ-child.
For a few precious hours, he is beheld. Christ the Lord. Those who pass the year without seeing him, suddenly see him. People who have been accustomed to using his name in vain, pause to use it in praise. Eyes, now free of the blinders of self, marvel at his majesty. All of a sudden he’s everywhere.
In the grin of the policeman as he drives his paddy wagon full of presents to the orphanage.
In the twinkle in the eyes of the Taiwanese waiter as he tells of his upcoming Christmas trip to see his children.
In the emotion of the father who is too thankful to finish the dinner table prayer.
He’s in the tears of the mother as she welcomes home her son from overseas.
He’s in the heart of the man who spent Christmas morning on skid row giving away cold baloney sandwiches and warm wishes.
And he’s in the solemn silence of the crowd of shopping mall shoppers as the elementary school chorus sings “Away in a Manger.”
Emmanuel. He is with us. God came near.
It’s Christmas night. In a few hours the cleanup will begin—lights will come down, trees will be thrown out. Size 36 will be exchanged for size 40, eggnog will be on sale for half-price. Soon life will be normal again. December’s generosity will become January’s payments and the magic will begin to fade.
But for the moment, the magic is still in the air. Maybe that’s why I’m still awake. I want to savor the spirit just a bit more. I want to pray that those who beheld him today will look for him next August. And I can’t help but linger on one fanciful thought: if he can do so much with such timid prayers lamely offered in December, how much more could he do if we thought of him every day?—Max Lucado1
I’d side-stepped a stack of stuffed animals and trooped over a jumble of Barbie dolls as I followed the sound of her muffled sobs.
Passing the bunk bed, I’d stubbed my toe on her wooden dollhouse before reaching the dresser in the corner with the missing pink knob where I’d found her hiding in the slender gap between the wardrobe and the wall.
We’d had a bad day. A tantrum-throwing, word-slinging, frustrating kind of day. We’d traded cuddles for conflicts, silly songs for sighs, peace for power-plays. And, to be honest, the selfish side of me just wanted to leave my disgruntled daughter sulking in the corner while I lingered on the couch with a cup of coffee and a covering of quiet.
But four years of parenting this fiery child had taught me that humility goes further than harshness, and grace always has a place in our worst moments. So I dropped to all fours and crawled into the gap, right next to my glowering girl.
“May I join you?” I’d whispered.
She’d cast me a solemn nod and reached for my hand, slowly threading her delicate fingers through mine. Then she’d leaned her head on my shoulder and exhaled a jagged sigh. And, together, we’d sat squished in weary silence behind that bedraggled bureau.
That was years ago. My littlest girl doesn’t hang out behind her dresser anymore. She’s more likely to be found hanging from the monkey bars on her elementary school playground. But not long ago she brought home a picture that reminded me of our corner-huddling days.
At the top of the page was a simple writing prompt typed in boxy letters: “I know my Mommy loves me because …”
And just below the words was a crayoned picture of two small stick figures sitting behind a tall white box decorated with pretty pink knobs and my daughter’s response scripted in messy second-grade scrawl.
“I know my Mommy loves me because … she makes herself small when I really need her.”
“See, Mommy?” My little artist exclaimed as she pointed to the picture she’d drawn directly below those fortuitous words. “That’s you and me in my secret hiding place … Remember how you used to come find me when I was crying?”
I nodded and felt my eyes burn with unsolicited tears. I oohed and aahed over that precious masterpiece, then I headed to the kitchen to hang the simple sketch with a magnet on the fridge, because this mama desperately needs to remember what her daughter already knows:
True love bends low to say, You matter.
True love kneels humbly to say, I care.
True love stoops freely to say, I’m here.
True love is willing to become small to offer the BIGGEST gift of all—the power of presence.
Maybe that’s why I found myself thinking about crowded corners and crayoned pictures as I unpacked our simple nativity scene and positioned the baby Jesus figure in the delicate folds of that painted porcelain manger.
At the heart of this season filled with grand fanfare and pomp is a humble Savior who made Himself small for us when we needed Him most.
It’s crazy when you think about it—how the biggest love of all shrunk small on that first Christmas long ago. The King of Heaven stooped to earth so we might know the gift of His presence, the wonder of His with-ness, the comfort of His company.
And according to a 7-year-old who once hid behind a bedraggled bureau and the timeless words of our key verse today, 1 John 4:10, that’s how we know we are loved, truly and lavishly loved. “This is the embodiment of true love: not that we have loved God first, but that He loved us …”—Alicia Bruxvoort2
Christmas represents one of the most significant events in human history—when God physically came into our world in the form of His Son, Jesus. In telling the story of God’s entrance into the world, Matthew’s Gospel says that the events leading up to Jesus’ birth took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).3
Jesus, “God with us,” showed us the lengths to which God would go in order to reconcile humanity to Himself—by ordaining that He Himself, in the form of God the Son, would take the punishment of the sins of humanity, so that we might live with Him forever.
Christmas is the celebration of “God with us,” the birth of God’s incarnate Son, who lived and died in order to make it possible for us to come into relationship with God and for the Spirit of God to dwell within us. What a joyful reason to celebrate!
At Christmas, and every other day of the year, all of us within whom the Spirit of God dwells are in a sense an extension of “God with us” in our community—to our friends and neighbors, our coworkers, the people who serve us in shops and restaurants, and strangers whom the Lord brings across our paths. The love we show through our interactions with others, the words we speak and actions we take, the kindness and generosity we show, the helping hand we offer, reflect the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Others can sense something uncommon and special in us, and when we explain that God is with us and can be with them as well, we help to fulfill the ultimate reason of Christmas.
This is a wonderful time of year to share the gospel with others, to let them know that God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.4 We are each called to do all we can to share the news of “God with us” with those who need Him.—Peter Amsterdam
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3 Matthew 1:22–23 ESV.
4 John 3:16 ESV.