Sunday, December 13, 2020

At Our Height

Today we light the third candle of Advent. It is traditionally the Gaudete candle, the candle of Joy. I have named this the candle of Proclamation, marking the night that the arrival of embodied Joy was proclaimed.

The birth of Jesus could have been accompanied by global fanfare and festivities. Instead, the awaited Messiah’s arrival was rather unassuming. Two unknown people and a baby in a small, over-crowded town, with only a star to light their dirty dwelling, and only smelly shepherds to spread the word.

But God is the business of turning expectations upside down. And the birth of his Son was no exception.

Hannah Brencher writes about this in her essay, “Finally with Us”:
I always wonder why. Why so anonymous? Why far out from the crowds? Why in a secret place?

Because that’s the way our God moves a lot of the time.

Author Alicia Britt Chole writes, “The Father’s work in us does not sleep-- though in spiritual winters he retracts all advertisement. And when he does so, he is purifying our faith, strengthening our character, conserving our energy, and preparing us for the future.”

Though in spiritual winters he retracts all advertisement.
That line gets me every time I read over it.

I believe this is what was happening as Mary and Joseph prepared to give birth to their baby. God was doing something big. Actually, the biggest thing he’d ever done. But it didn’t come into the world looking how we expect the “big things” to look.
It came simply. It came unassumingly. It came out of a lowly place, an environment no one would think to enter into looking for a king.
Simple and unassuming. The opposite of what Christmas has unfortunately become for so many. But is in that lowly place, where the sparkle and noise can settle, that we are able to quiet our hearts and really hear the proclamation: Immanuel is born!

In the early 1970s, as his TV show was becoming a hit, Mr. Rogers was asked to help decorate Hallmark’s Christmas window in midtown Manhattan. After scoping out the location, he agreed. But his design was not what they were expecting. A recent article in the Washington Post records the story this way:
His [Mr. Rogers’] window display would be this: A Norfolk Island pine tree, the height of a three- or four-foot-tall child. No ornaments or decorations, just a simple green tree, planted in a clear glass Lucite cube so that onlookers could see the roots of the tree. And in front of it there was to be a plaque that simply said: “I like you just the way you are.”

. . . At first blush it seems beautiful, because it is: centered on a child, a tree just their height, reinforcing the message Rogers most desperately wanted his young neighbors to hear. Working to combat shame, isolation, trauma; working to help build resilience in the lives of kids he could never hope to reach one by one.
“In the middle of all the tinsel and lights, there was that little tree, all alone.”

Sounds like another tree I know, created by another famous individual dedicated to imparting truth for children young and old.

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that A Charlie Brown Christmas holds a dear spot in my family’s heart. The TV classic centers on Charlie Brown and his friends as they try to pull together a Christmas play. But the stage will not be complete without a Christmas tree. So, Charlie Brown and Linus go trudging to the tree lot, in search of the perfect tree. Everything they find is too shiny or too tinny. And then they see it: a small, unassuming little tree. Not the tree Lucy would have chosen, for sure. But Charlie Brown thinks it’s perfect.

It mirrors Mr. Rogers’ tree in so many ways. The message of Christmas is not about consumerism or busyness. The wonder of Christmas can be found with child-like faith. All we need to do is kneel down beside the shepherds and see the humble arrival of the King of Kings. He has given us the gifts of imagination and hope to thread all the pieces together into a beautiful, full picture—worthy of any greeting card or stain-glass window. But it starts by drawing close.

Brencher concludes her essay with this:
We cannot discount what God is doing when it feels like nothing is happening. . . What we need to do is draw close. What we need to do is trust that, even when we cannot see the full story emerging, God is there. He is with us. Immanuel. He is totally and completely with us for the steps ahead.

I imagine that is what Mr. Rogers was picturing when he decorated his scene. A God who loves us so much that He entered human space at our height, in a way that we could understand. That is worthy of glorious proclamation.


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