We walked into the massive building and the organic odors of animals greeted us with a firm handshake. We were there for the Christmas craft show. We walked up and down crowded aisles filled with arts and crafts, both ordinary and remarkable. There were twinkling lights and scarves and toys and treats and it went on and on and on. I wanted so many things. There was a lady there painting with needle and thread on silk. The threaded art was truly amazing. There were these guys selling spa stones that could file your nails and remove the very hair on your legs!! Crazy!
There was a man from Alabama selling the most remarkable knives that cut through squash like it was butter. I know Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of our savior but I found myself longing for the material things all around. I found myself wrapped up in a delicious melody sung by the craft booth sirens wanting to sink me into a sea of financial oblivion... We don't even have any of our Christmas decorations with us in this country! I resisted for the most part. I bought a scarf and a few elephants made out of forks because who among us can resist elephants made of forks?! Not I!
So it's Christmas time. It's our first Christmas in the states in seven years. The first Christmas song I heard on the radio while driving in a light snow flurry I had to turn off as my vision became blurred by the tears welling up. The melancholy of lights and songs and cold weather and memories of yesteryear is a fierce force. So much surrounding Christmas sucks me in. I have missed all the pageantry of Christmas in the US. I hardly can contain my excitement.
Last week the kids came home from college and we were together on Thanksgiving day for the first time in years. When the kids were away at school (in Cameroon) Thanksgiving was too short a break to have them come home. The night we drove to pick up Joe from BWI the traffic was a nightmare. It took over 2 hours to get there when it usually takes about an hour. We were nearly there when the traffic slowed to a crawl.
The thing is, I kinda freak out when we are all together and my freaking out has nearly ruined the precious time we have together. I build it up in my mind. I want to glory in every moment of family togetherness. I want to drink each opportunity to the bitter dregs. What can end up happening is I squeeze each moment into a lifeless lump. I stress out and get mad at myself and have to take a time out. Then I end up apologizing and it is so frustrating. So this Christmas I don't want to do that. I want to be relaxed and at peace.
We get to go to youth group every week at our home church and help out this year alongside a few leaders that once were youth in our youth group. This week our youth pastor, Chris, brought a great message to us. He talked about all the symbolism in the birth and death of Jesus. We all know the story of baby Jesus being born in a stable and placed in a manger but Chris brought to life the culture and setting of the story in a remarkable way. He pointed out that due to the census at the time so many were traveling and the inns were most likely family homes. The homes were built in a way that an interior courtyard bordered rooms all around the exterior. There were bedrooms and living spaces and a special room set aside for animals but not all animals were given space there, only the very best, the ones raised for sacrifices. In that time each family had animals raised for the express purpose of sacrifice. So the One born to die for all our sins started out his life in that room with animals being raised for sacrifice. He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and place in a manger. Most likely a manger made of stone. A manger is a place for the feeding of said animals. Jesus thirty something years after his birth says he is the Bread of Life. Whoa! Then after the crucifixion Jesus is wrapped in cloths and spices and placed in an empty tomb, one carved from stone.
Jesus started his earthly life wrapped in cloths and was placed in a carved out stone manger and after being crucified was wrapped in cloths and placed in a carved out stone tomb. Another stunning symbol of the story is back then when a carpenter finished a project he folded the cloth in a certain way and placed it on top of the object to show he was finish with the work. So when the tomb was opened and found to be empty the burial cloth Jesus was wrapped in was folded in the same manor and placed on the stone to show that the work was finished. Wow, mind blown. How wonderfully amazing, rich, tragic and beautiful are these symbols in the best story every told. This is what we celebrate each year at Christmas time. It is the birth of our Savior. He came to live and die, to pay the debt of our sins and rise from the dead, so we can spend eternity with Him. This beautiful, scandalous night foreshadowed on Christ's birthday. With striking purpose our savior lived to be the sacrifice for us all.