We, the people, are smoothers. We like to take rough edges and reshape them into smooth arcs. Everything in order. Everything affirming.
Most especially with God.
We want, most of all, from God a smooth, round, smiling face.
What we don’t want is the jagged edges that he offers us: we don’t want to remember or formalize in any way the fact that Jesus was born with a sword at his throat.
It is a recurring, if consistently confusing, theme in the Bible: life in death, death in life, hate in love, love in hate.
We find, even from the very beginning of the Bible, that the love of God would not make it easily into a Hallmark card. Stomping through just the opening of Genesis we find God’s first perfect pair, cursed and evicted; a brother slain; a son nearly sacrificed.
And how many pages did we have to get through just to find all that?
Throughout both scripture and life God presents to us what we truly do not want to see: the hard and fast relationship between love and hate.
Heaven and Earth.
The gift of love.
The violence of fear.
Here we find ourselves in body. We recognize that we now have a kind of freedom.
Isn’t that what Eve realized? That she was now free. Free to choose.
So she did.
Then she learned that choices have consequences.
It’s one of the hardest lessons for parents to learn: that the choice of their child creates for the parent a choice. And that the deepest lesson a child must learn is that their “freedom” expressed is something that has very real consequences, for himself and possibly for others.
The consequence of Eve’s choice was real. It was tangible.
A lesson taught by God.
So as people, we come to a relief of feeling that here on Earth we are “free” from God. And then he lets us know that he is sending his son, his emissary, his gift.
And we take out our swords.
Because perhaps we think that God is going to now take away our freedom. Take away our pleasures, little and great. Take away our crimes, little and great.
Take away our choices.
Earth will become like Heaven: we will spend all our time on our knees praising God.
So we take out our swords, and we point them at the baby Jesus.
And any other baby that could possibly be the baby Jesus.
Jesus is like a flower bursting to life in a war zone. Oblivious to the bombs. Able to plunge down roots deep into a soil that may not have existed in that spot moments ago.
This is the true picture of the nativity.
Love in the midst of hate.
God tells us, I love you. And we respond that we hate him. Hate him to death.
And we continue to chant that refrain even to this day.
Even in the most ardent religions. We take up our swords and point them at the vulnerable gifts that God sends us.
So what can we do, as simple, little individuals, to counteract such fear of God? A fear that turns black and infects the Earth?
What can we give Jesus at his birth to show him that we accept the love of God that he so beautifully represents?
It is written that perfect love casts out fear. But I’ve always been dubious about that line. Because just what is perfect love, and how can we, small as we are, even pretend to have such greatness about us?
One definition of perfect is: having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.
So perhaps that is what we can offer: an acceptance that we DO have the required qualities to cast out fear. That we are as good as it is possible to be.
For us, that is.
Perhaps in all our misshapenedness, we have the tool to dissolve the fear that can turn into evil if pressed hard enough.
We have our knees, even if we can’t kneel, and we have a way to bow our heads. We can always clasp our hands together.
And we can pray.
Even if we have to wait for the prayer to come.
Even if we recite a prayer we learned as a child. Over and over and over again.
We can even pray in complete silence. Knowing that the words of our heart will be heard in spite of our being too overwhelmed to find the words.
Perhaps it is these small words, these minute efforts that will form a shield of love around the most vulnerable, around those who need to believe but have difficulty, around those who remind the world of the love of God.
Perhaps all we need to do to celebrate Christmas is pray.
Our little prayers acknowledging the love of God can be our real presents to our Lord.