Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. (Psalm 22.9-10)
I was raised in pre-climate change “Minn-a-soda”:
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
In my family of origin, Christmas Eve was the major time of celebration. There was an abundance of presents, children and grandchildren, and nieces and nephews. Christmas Eve also came with an abundance of fighting, competition, temper tantrums, and scheming. This was from the adults.
In this context was my favorite childhood Christmas memory. I left the house Christmas Eve afternoon and went ice-skating for several hours. My friends were already celebrating or traveling, so I went alone — or should I say in solitude. I pretty much had the rink and chalet to myself. It was snowing. It was perfect.
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
There was a public nativity scene in North Mankato. Off to the side was a simple message: “Wise Men Still Seek Him”. While there were a few scattered attempts to get us to church as kids, most of my theology came from TV and Christmas songs. Yet this nativity scene fascinated me. Why? Because I believed this story and in this baby.
Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
Without being taught, I already had a faith in Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John explains this revelation:
- “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
- “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
- “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
As an eleven-year old boy, I already knew that light. He made himself “visible” to me. Later in life I connected with him at a deeper level. But as a child, I didn’t know what to do with this light. So I did what I could:
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
The wise may still seek him according to the nativity scene, but there is also a bigger issue at play: He came to seek me! He found a way to reach me apart from the church, theological training, or good works. This is the part many miss about Christianity. It’s the complete acceptance by Jesus Christ of who we are — just as we are. Once we embrace our status that: “We are loved”, it opens up new possibilities. We can then begin the acceptance of ourselves and discard the limiting, and sometimes debilitating, fear and shame that sometimes controls our lives. If God accepts us, we can accept ourselves. Once, we can get to a deeper acceptance of ourselves, we become free to love others: John says, “We love because he first loved us.”
Teresa of Avila, in her book The Interior Castle, writes about Jesus Christ indwelling of our souls and the value he places on our souls:
“So then, what do you think that abode [our souls] will be like where a King so powerful, so wise, so pure, so full of all good things takes his delight? I don’t find anything comparable to the magnificent beauty of a soul and its marvelous capacity.”
If Jesus Christ indwells us, what must our souls be like? This Christmas season, I encourage you to embrace your core identity: Someone loved by Jesus Christ — completely accepted — just as your are. And remember: He still seeks you!
Photo: by Janet Small – Nativity Arrangement by Our Grandchildren
For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.