I was recently reading a letter from a friend that blew me away. Neat guy. Crazy story.
This guy used to live in Lebanon. He was there to engage the Muslim world in peaceful conversations about God and the world. (What?!?!? I sell electronic parts.) He always has amazing stories. He is now a professor at Exeter University in England engaging students in conflict resolution. Yeah, I know, amazing right?
He has spent some time and specifically a few Christmases in Bethleham. He wrote me this in a letter this week:
"Despite having been to Jerusalem and the West Bank three times this year, the Christmas story often feels far removed from my experiences there. This time last year I was buying a wooden nativity scene in Bethleham, perhaps looking for a little inspiration but by frustrated shop owner wanted to tell me of his experience of being roughed up by British soldiers on a visit to Northern Ireland. A quier wanter downt he Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem was disturbed by 'Faith, Wonders, and Miracles - Jesus tours, and a young boy who wants to sell me a genuine piece of the cross. A walk around Jerusalem's Old City walls leads to security checkpoints, closed circuit cameras, and protests by Jewish/Muslim religious groups. Yet perhaps today's tense and divided landscape is not so far removed from the world God entered. A world of frustration and mistrust, of political agitation and exploitation by religious and political entities, a society of 'pious believers', yet, where religion had become corrupted by commercialism, false messiahs and imperial conquerors. Praise God that the Christmas story goes beyond a 'Holy Land' and focuses on a Holy God entering our broken world. The Word became flesh - he became one of us, yet remained fully God. The author of life, entered his own narrative to rescue fallen characters and offer us an alternative ending - the divine rescue plan. It is a story historically grounded yet daily experienced as God still meets people at their point of need. Hallelujah, Emmanuel - God is with us."
Whoa. Amen to that.
I really love the picture of walking down the street in Via Dolorosa being hounded by commercialism in one of the most significant places in history. We are so backwards in how we treat things. But, such is humanity.
Now, I think that it's gotten to the point where saying "we've lost the meaning of Christmas" is cliche. But its true. And yet the meaning is there always. Life abounds. Relationships create wonder, frustration, and meaning. Such is the point. That God entered this world lowly and humble and the opposite of the what everyone would have done if they were God. A baby. Not an emperor. In this he became "with us" and changed the story.
With us. How amazing.
I recently had the privelege of being present for an engagement of two very close friends. We schemed with the groom-to-be for months. Totally surprised the bride-to-be. The room was perfect, the tears were flowing. It was great. Lots of love. I even drank champagne. She woke up the next morning and checked her finger to see if the ring was still there. It was and she beamed. Good stuff.
And I have been thinking about this a bunch. What is so exciting about that scene? Why do we all get excited about this stuff? We glamorize it in movies, we long for it as youth and search for it so much.
To me it's the hope that my friend Krystle will have someone to always be with her. And the same for Kris. They are on this life journey together now. With us. With me. With you. What a reflection of the Christmas story. Its like God sort of said, okay, I am in it with you till the end, here I am. I'll do things like you do them, with you. Then we will do this together, okay?
Okay by me.
I think this is what I have been leaning on these days. That God is here with me. Christ went through similar crap as I did. He skipped a few nights sleep with stress. He got angry. He had some great times with his best friends. He made it His life's point to meet the needs of those around him. He gets me. He is with me. What meaning.
As I look to the ensuing Christmas season with all the events and such, this is what I see.
I get to spend time with my sister who doesn't live near me anymore. I get to share dinner with some of my favorite friends on Christmas eve. I get to learn about a roommate from South Africa who is so different than I. I get to go to a game with my dad on Christmas. I get to be present, to spend the real good stuff in life, time, with those I really love.
I think the night before God entered the world, he got really excited. I'd like to think he was like a kid before Christmas. All anxious, laying awake in bed, dreaming of the days ahead with the new adventures like a kid dreams about the new toy with which he or she can think of a million things to spend time.
I'd like to think that the Christmas day event was as meaningful for God as it was for us. Just as the giver is always as satisfied as the one recieving the gift.
Thanks for the gift God.
As my friend Craig said, "Hallelujah, Emmanuel - God with us."