I want all stories and conversations and relationships to be wrapped up by a beautiful Lexus Christmas bow. I also like things to close on a perfect note, like Jane Austen’s stories. But there are only Lexus bows at Christmastime in certain places—dealerships and some driveways—and as much as I love Jane Austen, her work is fiction. Real life is gritty.
As I opened Christmas cards last night, I came to one that reminded me of the depth of the hurt of our broken world. It’s a story I’ve known for years and coped with on different levels at different times, not knowing the words to form around it. Last night, it struck me unaware and off-guard in a deeper, very sad place. I had filed it away so I could consider it from a distance, but last night it felt close, too close, and heavy. I have my own heartrending stories, from yesterday and even from today. Each of us carries so many stories.
I’m realizing that as we celebrate the story of how Jesus, the light of the world, came to Earth, the darkness would try more earnestly to overcome that light, making all the sad parts of our stories seem darker. But when it’s dark, light shines brighter because it’s all we can see. Turn out the lights, light a candle, and watch how light scares the darkness away.
Sometimes the light Jesus brings into my dark places looks simple, like running into a good friend at the grocery store to remind me I don’t have to walk alone. And sometimes it looks more profound, like my husband speaking the truth of God’s love to me this morning when I’m crying because I’ve lost patience yet again with our kids and don’t see God’s light or work or sanctification in me. Sometimes it’s the Spirit reminding me “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) Because sometimes it’s hard to believe when you can’t see, and God knows that.
There’s a coffeehouse in Nashville called The Well. It’s a place bringing light, Jesus’s light, a little brighter into many dark places. Its first home was a renovated Burger King. The floor was painted trendy, but the paint wore off with each chair scoot; it was still Burger King. But it wasn’t. Among many other missions, they sell things made by women who need jobs and not prostitution and who need Jesus. And I need Jesus. I need him in the full, hopeful, expectant, bow-wrapped places of life, and I need him in the deep, dank, putrid places of my soul. I need him when the world seems so dark and so fallen that I can’t believe in the hope he promises. But even when I can’t believe and can’t see and don’t feel, he is. He is God, who came to Earth and knows my struggles and my pains and walks with me in them. And he always has the last word, so I don’t have to have the words in these places where there are no words.
Bethlehem was gritty. But there was and is a beauty in the grit because God is there. The roads Jesus walked here were dirty and dusty and smelly, and he washed feet bathed in Earth, bathed in darkness. And he brought life. And he lived and breathed it in, and he died for us here. But before he died, he said, “It is finished.” And he finished it so very far beyond and more beautiful than a pretty bow. He finished it with his blood. “O precious is the flow that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.” He gave his blood freely and generously, as he gave and gives himself every day, to you and me, here on Earth. And he will wrap all things up one day, but not in a bow; instead, he is and will continue making all things sad come untrue, bringing death to life.
Jesus isn’t a neat and tidy, tied-up-with-a-bow idea, he is real. He’s not safe, he’s not predictable, but he’s the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Jesus came from heaven into Earth: a fallen, sinful, and dark place. But “in him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)
He is here. He sees the brokenness and walks through it with us, even when we feel the broken shards cutting into our souls. He chose to come and live among it, among us, because he loves us. In our sin and filth and grime, he chose us and loved us and still does. He is Emmanuel, God with us.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.