The Christmas Miracle

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Eric Metaxas, in his book Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life, describes a miracle as “when something outside time and space enters time and space, whether just to…poke at us briefly, or to come in and dwell among us for three decades.”

Something about this time of year makes society think more about miracles. At my library alone, there are over 70 items with the words “Christmas” and “miracle” somewhere in their title or description. There’s of course Miracle on 34th Street, a festive picture book titled A Christmas Spider’s Miracle, and Thomas Kinkade’s on-the-nose DVD release – Christmas Miracle. No beating around the bush on that one.

Of course, this holiday passion for the miraculous is very likely rooted in the original “Christmas” miracle we now celebrate every December 25th: when an omnipotence and omniscience far beyond our comprehension stepped into the world with a mission of hope.

Me personally, I’m not sure I’ve experienced a miracle. I believe I’ve been protected from harm in several instances, but a full on miracle? Visions of angels, sudden and incomprehensible healing, come-to-Jesus moments? I’ve lived a fairly steady (if medically interesting) life of faith. Complete with all the ups and downs.

The songs and lights and nativities have got me thinking, though: even if I never experience the miraculous in my own life, wouldn’t the miracle of “God with us” be enough? We seek quick fixes for life, microwave solutions for slow-cooker problems. We want the easy out when difficulties loom. Isn’t that the appeal of miracles?

But Jesus stepped into time. He aged and suffered for us to bring a lasting fix for every hurt and sickness. The feel-good books and movies of the season could never supply something so whole. Our brief difficulties – so brief, in the light of where our souls belong – may not end in this life, but one thing is guaranteed: Jesus among us has given meaning to what we endure.

Even true miracles, though they show us the power and character of God, can’t save us in and of themselves. Only a holy babe, born in lowly status, could fulfill that sort of promise.

Merry, miraculous Christmas, everyone.

Living with Conditions

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Like many middle-schoolers growing up in the church, I did my stint of summer Bible camp. Those weeks were a lesson in neglect.

Alongside getting ditched by the girls in my youth group to stay in a cabin with strangers, I dealt with ridicule, stolen belongings, intentional avoidance, and (consequently) crippling homesickness. One year my cabin leader (totally oblivious, bless her) awarded me the nickname “Solitaire” because she often saw me sitting alone on the camp swings.

On a particular summer, around the middle of the week, a “friend” from my church pulled me aside under pretense of camaraderie and let me know that she and the other girls would talk to me “if I bathed more regularly”.

As a hormonal teenager, I’m sure after a couple missed ablutions I smelled a bit ripe. But let me tell you – walking into the camp’s showers was like entering a bacteria culture. You stood on soap scum, tried not to scrape your elbows against the tight walls covered in fungi, and prayed no invertebrates came crawling up the drain to feast on your toes.

I couldn’t fathom how I’d ever get clean in one of those hygiene-forsaken nightmares. And anyway, all the other girls in my cabin got dibs first. I never had a chance.

(Since this “friend” eschewed my company even when I could clean daily, I doubted the authenticity of her claim in general.)

I recently shared this story with a friend at work. We laughed about it, remarked on the hell that is middle school, and went back to our current projects. Then, out of nowhere, I felt like I was going to cry.

I mean, these Bible camp trips happened nearly two decades ago. I’ve since withstood harder things, dealt with grown-up pain, realized the fleeting existence of the teenager caste system. And yet, digging up that story made me hurt more than I had in a long while. The feeling stayed with me, and so later on I shared my confusion with another friend.

She imparted this God-given wisdom: I hadn’t acknowledged the pain of conditional love.

In essence, I’d been offered an ultimatum for affection: “If [condition], then [acceptance].” My bathing schedule was never the point of that interaction. The point was: those girls wouldn’t dare associate with me until I’d met their standards; and even then, the acceptance was a crapshoot.

How many of us, at some point in our lives, have been handed a condition to meet before we’re “in”? Something like:

  • If I act like someone I’m not, then I’ll be lovable.
  • If I lose weight/if my skin clears up/if I radically change my appearance, then I’ll be lovable.
  • If I like this thing that everybody else likes, then I’ll be lovable.

It’s cruel to demand a person jump through such hoops to gain what God has told us to freely grant. Jesus tended to the sick, the poor, the leprous. None of them had to be hygienic or flawless or have the “right” opinions before he poured his love into them.

When I recalled that week at Bible camp, the feelings of inadequacy came flooding back, like I’d never really let them go. They’d been shaping the way I perceived myself and the way I interacted with others, even if minutely. With the roots re-exposed, I had to address the problem once again, surrender the need to meet some phantom standard before I could feel up to snuff.

At the cross, we’re all equal in value; it’s both a humbling and dignifying reality. And now I deal with my own conditional love. For you see, Jesus would love those camp girls, even past their meanness. I’m asked to do the same.

Time

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We are within it, captives to it, desperate to mask its effects. At its end we know there’s death – and not just for ourselves. Entropy drags every physical thing into its starving mouth, however slowly matter resists. There’s no cure for this mortal erosion.

Centuries ago (as we measure our stacks of days), on an entropic morning that would pass on like any other, one singular vacated tomb made a silent breach in the long slog of time. A glint of eternity – like a shard of glass catching the sun’s light in the middle of an asphalt road.

I used to snag on the notion of infinity (typically right before bedtime, when all the deep thoughts invade) – imagining it as time stretched forward, in the sense that we feel time working. Now I begin to think it’s an un-measurable thing: not at all tedious, for it has no link to time – to this shuffle toward an End – at all.

Jesus – God in flesh – knew infinity, but he came to die in this finite realm so that we might have a chance to take his hand, pulling us through the barrier of our choice to be fallen and decrepit. What is physical continues to fail and kill and deteriorate, but the soul in his care is preserved.

The sins that craft our slow demise no longer hold power. Though we have only a tenuous comprehension of the Forever hovering outside time’s cage, it’s still there. “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Will we choose to believe it’s true?

Happy Resurrection Sunday, all. God bless.