“And His name shall be called Immanuel, God with us.”
Earlier this week I asked our kids about their favorite Christmas traditions, and as I started to share some of my own, vivid memories came flooding back into my mind. I grew up near all of my extended family, so our holiday celebrations lasted several days and included Christmas programs at church, baking together and eating yummy meals, and of course exchanging gifts. One of my most favorite things though was crafting and decorating. I can still remember making homemade angel ornaments out of wallpaper scraps with my mom and sister and painting pinecone ornaments for our tree. My mom always made Christmas really special, and I now realize that my love for the holidays comes largely from those memories spent together.
I also found myself reflecting on Christmas memories with my precious grandmother, Nanny, who was the biggest Christmas enthusiast you can imagine. Every corner of her house was covered in red, green, and gold complete with Christmas music boxes and figurines on every table and shelf. She was born in Cades Cove which is now a part of the Smoky Mountains National Park, so in the weeks leading up to Christmas we would visit Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN to see the Christmas lights and to go shopping, always making a stop in the Christmas Place. I would always leave with a new ornament that she had purchased for me and a new memory to treasure. Nanny was a natural gift giver and would literally give you the shirt off her back if you needed it.
She worked extremely hard for every penny she ever earned starting from an early age, and sometimes worked two jobs. My mom said that Nanny would wake up before everyone and get ready for work, make homemade biscuits and gravy for the kids before she had to leave, and then when she got home late at night after her second job she would clean and polish everyone’s shoes before going to bed.
Her work ethic and passion for her family have always inspired me, but what I remember most about Nanny was her warmth, compassion, and generosity. As soon as anyone walked into her house they would be met with open arms and a contagious laugh that I can still hear in my mind today. If Nanny actually took a break to sit on the couch, she always had a grandchild or adult child cuddled up beside her or laying in her lap. Her very presence made us all feel safe, full of joy, and loved exactly as we were. Nanny was full of Life and embodied Love and Grace.
My precious grandmother passed away several years ago, and I am truly thankful for all of the sweet memories we had together and the joy I feel when I remember those times. When we lose a person so close and so dear to us, their absence leaves a hole inside us that is especially felt during the holidays.
How do we rejoice when everything inside us feels broken? How do we rejoice when our grief leaves us weary? How do we rejoice when we just feel like giving up?
For many, this year has been marked with the loss of loved ones, of jobs, of marriages, and of dreams, and I know that the pain and grief is still fresh and raw and messy. On top of personal pains, it seems each day and buzz of our smart phones usher in a new concern politically, both here in the USA and abroad, causing life to feel overwhelming and chaotic. And yet here we are again, trying desperately to celebrate the “glorious impossible” of the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, Immanuel, God with us.
God with us. God’s presence here, with us.
Holy but not Silent
This Christmas week I have thought about that Holy Night a bit differently. For any of you who have given birth or assisted in childbirth, you know that it is not really silent, calm, or peaceful, and in fact, for some it is traumatic, heartbreaking, and filled with grief.
We read the nativity story like a page from a storybook when in reality it was made up of very real, raw, and messy moments. Mary would have labored for many hours without pain medication, and the birth of Jesus was probably loud, tear-filled, and extremely messy. The pain and adrenaline of childbirth would have immediately been met with indescribable feelings of joy, relief, and excitement, and yet the older I get the more I realize how extremely young Mary was and, like all new parents, how scared and overwhelmed she and Joseph would have felt.
Life for Mary and Joseph would quite literally never be the same as they began their new journey as parents of the Messiah, filled with great Love and Joy. They, too, would also come to know grief and sadness, the depth of feeling that only accompanies the loss of someone your soul loves deeply.
Life is beautiful and amazing. Each day is a gift, and yet, sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of great pain and grief. Nevertheless, God sent Hope and Peace and Life to Earth for you and for me and for all of us. Jesus, Immanuel-God with us.
May we feel His presence this holiday season.
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.