It is about 1pm on Christmas Eve, 2016. My daughter and I are home in Wilmington, Delaware for the weekend. She is back at the place we are staying, getting dressed for the evening while I went shopping for a few last minute items.
It's the first Christmas I've had her with me in three years. Since we moved to Virginia in 2014, she uses the Christmas break to go back to Nashville to see her mom, but this year she had some school items to take care of and so she stayed here.
I've used this trip home to take her -for probably the final time- to the places I used to go when I was a little boy and where I used to take her when she was little and we would travel here each Christmas.
She is not a little girl anymore, and I know this. But I want her to be, at least at Christmas. I want to wake up tomorrow at dawn and see her open her presents excitedly. The truth is that she'll sleep until about ten and I'll be far more excited than she will be.
I never really grew up where Christmas is concerned. I love this time of year. I find myself getting into the spirit a few days sooner each year. Breaking out the Christmas music and decorating the tree a bit earlier each year.
I have been very observant this year. I've noticed a difference this Holiday. I've heard far more "Merry Christmas!" greetings this year. I've seen a little more of Jesus in the decorations and in the displays. This makes me happy. Happy because, if for no other reason, the ability to say "Merry Christmas" without fear of offending someone (real or imagined) was stifling over the last eight years.
But beyond that. Beyond the political backdrop and the question of First Amendment rights...there is the unrelenting truth of Christmas.
God, became a baby, and came to us.
Paul told us in Philippians chapter 2, that Jesus became a "man of no reputation." He was God in the flesh and had every right to claim the power and benefits of being God. Instead -out of a heart of love- He chose to forego his right to that dominion and subjected Himself to His father's will and became human.
God. Became human.
He was a baby. Had I wandered through bethlehem that night, and somehow walked into that dark, dirty cave, I could have held him in my arms.
I could have held God in my arms.
Maybe he'd smile. Maybe he'd spit-up a little like babies do and I'd laugh it off like I did when my own daughter did that. Maybe I could coax a little laugh out of him and a spit bubble or two. Or maybe He'd simply sleep in my arms, his head pressed against my chest and his soft breathing keeping time with my heart.
He was God.
He was God in a baby's body and He came here to die for me. He didn't come to teach great social lessons or undo the religious trends of the day. He came to die. He came to fulfill the prophecies and complete the Law and make a way for all of us "whosoevers" so that we could find ourselves at the Cross one day and accept the gift that His life bought and paid for.
The Cross is intimidating sometimes. To go there and see Jesus, writhing in death because of our sin is hard. It's a face-first, head-on-collision with a death so savage and angry that it is hard to view.
But the manger...the manger is different. The manger is silent and humble and innocent. The Baby in that dirty sheep trough is not being butchered by Roman soldiers like the man on the cross. He's poor and lowly and he's only had an audience of commoners. The shepherds nearby where the only people other than Mary and Joseph who even noticed His birth.
The baby in the manger is safe for the hurting heart of man. He offers love. He softens hard hearts. He declares: "On earth, Peace! Good will toward men." He tells us "My Father has made a way back for you. A way back to Him. A way that forgives all the sin, all the failure, the secrets, the dark days. He has decided to pay the tab on your behalf if you'll accept it, and the whole plan starts tonight. That's why I'm here!"
Jesus brings us the promise of peace. And He delivers on that promise as soon as we open our hearts and accept the offer. In that moment where we confess "I am lost. I have failed. I want to turn toward You and do it Your way. I accept this gift." In that moment, the promise is kept.
He is not intimidating or frightening. Babies never are those things.
If you are wandering this world tonight, lost and trying to figure out how to get home, or If you have led everyone to believe that you have it all together but inside you know you don't. If you have tripped and fallen and you're embarrassed by the dirt on your clothes and the mess you've made...this baby came for you.
Hear him in the midst of all this chaos and turmoil. Hear Him gently calling over the screeching cackle of the commercials and sales pitches. He loves you. He beckons you, come as you are. To a cave in Bethlehem, where the journey to the Cross begins for Him and for you.
Tonight, the night of gift giving, is the best night of all to accept the greatest gift ever given.
Come as you are.