I ask my girls to draw the nativity to make ornaments for the tree. Virginia simply draws a manger and a babe, feels that’s enough to get the point across, then moves on to begin her next picture.
I watch Mary Helen as she carefully draws the manger, then places a frowning baby in it and colors the manger orange. She picks up a pencil, presses down hard, and draws a tiny Mary and Joseph and three itty bitty wisemen. The babe in the manger seems huge, way larger than the miniature people she has drawn.
She has never drawn a nativity like this, and we draw one every year. I wonder why the people are so small, out of perspective, it seems to me. But then I see what God is showing me, his perspective through hers. The Christ Child in color, the people fading away because of the bright orange she has colored the huge manger. She colored the one that is color, the one that is life, the one that gives us both. Shouldn’t he be what stands out? Shouldn’t all else fade away?
I think of Mary and Joseph and the wisemen afar bringing gifts. Wisemen afar… their gifts just part of a plan. Mary, the carrier of the Christ child. Joseph, the human father who provided for him. They were part of the story, but they were not the story. He was the story, the Word who became flesh. Why not draw the Christ Child larger?
Father, do I focus more on my part of the story, on what I can do for you, than on what you did for me? Do I focus more on what I can give, the ways I can carry Christ, than on Christ himself? I am a Mary, a carrier of Christ, but would I draw myself larger than you, Jesus? Make my part of your story bigger than your love, bigger than your heart lying in a manger.
I ask Mary Helen why baby Jesus is frowning, and she says, “All babies cry when they are born.” And she reminds me that He was flesh, fully God and fully human, reminds me that he cried, and hungered, and had human needs. Reminds me that he was cold and had to be swaddled when God clothed himself with human flesh? Do I really understand what that means for me? Do I really know the love that came down? Am I so focused on my part of the story that I forget about his love, forget that he swaddles me with it, like the tissue wrapped around the clothespin Jesus in the manger Katie made at school.
The girls reenact the manger scene in a game of charades by the fire. They turn the lights down low and assume their roles. My youngest Katie is Jesus. The older two roll out a blanket and tell her to lie down. They swaddle her and attempt her to hold her in their arms. But she kicks her arms and legs, resists the swaddling in all her busyness and says, "I don't need any covers," and they laugh and call her the run away Jesus. But I know why she flails and resists the swaddling, because there is something in my heart that resists his love, that resists the intimacy, is scared somehow it will restrain. But the swaddling is what calms a baby, God whispers, is what makes them know they are safe, is what lets the world know they are loved.
A baby unswaddled was a baby abandoned in Jesus’s day. So Father, you sent Mary to swaddle your son, to care for the Christ child until it was time for him to be unswaddled, undressed, and forsaken so that I could be swaddled in you, clothed with your garments of salvation and your righteousness. So that I could be cradled in your arms like the hay and the wood and the arms that cradled Jesus.
So maybe Christmas is not about whether we give or get but about whether our hearts are swaddled in you. Whether we know the love that came down as flesh, whether we see the Christ Child as ALL so that all else fades away. Whether we know that Jesus is the color and joy of our life, the love that propels us to give his away. And maybe it’s not about how much we give or keep or spend or not spend, but about whether your love propels it all.
Father, let us give because you gave your love to us, because you become greater and we become less. We are part of your story, but we are not your story. Jesus is the story, the beginning and the end. Let us know his love that came down and clothed us, and let that love propel us to clothe others with the love of Christ this Christmas and always...In Jesus’ Name. Amen