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God Without Us

2020 is almost over and Christmas is barreling toward me faster than I am prepared to handle. Recovering from some serious illness the past week or so has not helped. Truthfully, I am not prepared. There is no tree with beautiful lights and sentimental ornaments in my living room. The totes full of decorations and joy are all still in the storage closet, no stockings are hung by the TV with care, and there is no nativity set in sight. Let's not even begin to talk about the lack of wrapped presents or presents at all (to be honest).

Jesus may be on his way, but my home, my mind, and probably my heart have not been prepared well.

It is easy for me to feel guilt and shame about this. I spent sooooo much time making Advent calendars and intending to prepare for Christmas, that I never actually prepared. I think that might be the norm, to be honest, but for different reasons this time.

Then again, I guess the first Christmas was a lot like that. Mary and Joseph traveling far from home and labor pangs begin, the only way labor contractions can. Then with much work and exhaustion, Mary gives birth to God incarnate--the one who would show us how to be most fully human and give us insight into God's divine life.

If you have been around the church for very long, and perhaps even if you haven't, you know the story. A lowly peasant girl bears (quite literally) God into the world surrounded by animals and straw. It's a cute Christmas pageant but doesn't sound like any expectant mother's dream birth plan. I mean, I don't know that for sure, having never needed a birth plan, but my intuition tells me that it is true.

That's the part of the story I love most, I think. The incredibly human part of it. The lack of knowing what the future would bring or when Mary would finally get to sleep, if she would at all. The crying of a newborn baby, the sighs of relief as his little lungs wailed the only way little lungs can. The sheer messiness and reality of what it meant for God to come into the world as one of us because we all need the redemption that only God can bring.

Hope. Wait. Prepare the Way.

All themes of Advent, and then the waiting is over and Christmas is here. The day we celebrate the birth of our Lord comes (as does the eleven-day feast after I struggle to celebrate), and it's almost like the waiting never happened at all.

All the icons and depictions of Mary and baby Jesus are just so refined, so beautiful, and almost completely devoid of the truly divine nature that exists in being truly human. Christmas is good news because God came to us, and at the same time, that means that "God refuses to be God without us" (Will Willimon gets credit for the quote). God with us, what a sigh of relief that is. God with us even if I have no tree or perfectly clean house. God with us when there are no preparations. God with us when it feels like the darkness of winter and a pandemic seeps into all spaces. God with us even when we don't want it or think we deserve it or can feel it. God with us, because God refuses to be God without us. Amen.

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