We sat, the two of us, at the small table in our kitchen. The sun had broken through after a week spent behind gray and threatening clouds. Strains of piano notes softly filled the room adding to a sacred hush that welcomed both wonder and reminiscence. Coffee steamed from mugs held in our ever-wrinkling hands and memories cascaded from our thanks-filled hearts.
It was Christmas morning–our twenty-fourth together. Our memories were the gifts we opened; the treasure we unwrapped was, again, the inexpressible joy of Emmanuel. We pondered the magnitude of God with us and found ourselves without adequate words as the reality of it sank a little deeper into our world-weary hearts.
What else compares?
The festivities had bordered on frenzy the weeks leading up to our quiet Christmas morning. Planning. Decorating. Shopping. Wrapping. Baking. Gatherings. Services. Programs. And in the flurry we wrestled as much Advent as we could from the Happy Holidays which threatened to eclipse the holiness of the season.
On the table before us lay twenty-five Christmas letters dating back to 1990. The collection is a written time-lapse as seen through the lens of Sister Alice, my husband’s paternal aunt.
The first letter was written the year she was commissioned by her religious order to move in and care for her frail mother. Grandmother was swimming in the thick soup of dementia, or in her words, possessing “a terrific forgetter.” The last letter in the collection holds the news that Aunt Alice is following in her mother’s footsteps. The forgetting has begun.
Wedged between the parenthesis of that forgetfulness are the accumulated memories of one family–the highlights, achievements, accomplishments, reunions, marriages, births, deaths, joys, sorrows, setbacks and dreams. Lives lived and chronicled in an annual Christmas letter–snapshots of what is held dearest and offered as the fruitfulness of a good and worthy life.
The letters represent a family that is rich in heritage and proud of it’s genealogy–who honor the sacredness of faith and family and who value and respect their connectedness. They are a people who started with nothing and built rich lives out of their faith, ingenuity and diligence.
As we read through the stack of Christmas letters I was struck by how fleeting life is and how the only thing that we really have, that we can really hold onto through our brief span of enterprise on the earth is that
God is with us.
Nothing else compares with the immeasurable wealth of that reality and nothing else can substitute it. Whether we came from a good family or have no idea where we originated, whether the accumulated highlights of our lives are neatly chronicled in a tidy file folder or we cling to humble snippets and scraps–the only thing that really quantifies our us and our lives is Emmanuel.
Most of us will be completely forgotten within 100 years of our death. All that we worked to achieve and accumulate, including the accolades, will be of little consequence to anyone. Our treasures will be discarded or liquidated. Our accomplishments will become outdated and irrelevant. At best, the sum of our lives will be recorded and buried in a file or drawer or box that will eventually find it’s way to a dumpster and then to a landfill.
But the one true, lasting, significant thing about us is that we are His. It doesn’t matter if our life begins holding a silver spoon or we are discarded at birth, whether we take our last breath surrounded by grieving family members or we’re found under a cardboard roof.
It’s easy to get caught in the net of forgetfulness at Christmastime. Our vision can get blurred in the glare of lights and our ears can tune into the wrong messages. Whether you spent the Advent wrapped in the velvet of familial love and tradition or you passed the days breathing through grief and sorrow. One thing remains our unchanging hope and assurance–God is with us.
As we put away the ornaments, dump out the leftovers and find places for the gifts we received–can I remind us that Christmas tradition or how we spent it is not a statement of our worth or worthiness.
Christmas is the reminder, the fixer of our forgetter that God is with us.
Our successes can’t obscure Him, our sorrows can’t conceal Him. Our validity is not contained in neatly typed lines laid on Christmas stationary, nor is it obliterated by our failures or forgetfulness.
Glorious God becoming man is more than adequate to jar us free from the matrix of this world’s disregard and devaluation. No matter where you sit today, in whatever state you find your heart or your mind or your emotions–you could not be more loved.
This is what we remind ourselves: Advent, the one that’s past and the one to come, provide the parenthesis that contain what makes this life matter–that part of our existence that doesn’t find its way to a landfill or cemetery.
God is with us!