Pottery Barn catalogs pile up the stress as the Christmas gift list is still blank. The instagrammed Christmas tree selfies on my newsfeed create jealousy in me as our house is still tree-less. Five days into December and the days seem to be speeding by like a train on the tracks…if I slow down long enough to let my eyes follow one train car, I will feel the whiplash when I see that ten others pass within mere seconds.
In the silence of the morning, I wait. I wait for my mind to settle. I wait for Christmas to sink into this heart of mine. I wait… only to realize that the void of the tangible Christmas items points out the void of the best of Christmas’ intangible gifts…the coziness of a decorated home, the peace of lingering conversation, the magic of the gifting season.
The void echoes and calls out to be filled.
Bitterness, Jealousy, and Fear all raise their hands – willing to set-up home.
Self-Justification steps forward to address the void. Pointing its finger to the outside world, it places the blame on the consumer-driven, sentimentality-addicted, happiness-pretending culture of the holiday season.
Self-Righteousness, the religious friend of Self-Justification, suggests the void is merely evidence that I’m not one of those Christians who skips the holiness of Advent and goes right to the merriment of Christmas.
But that would be giving in. It would let death and all her friends win and in so doing, the void would only deepen and widen.
Instead, I call myself to the practice of vulnerably showing up. Closing my mind to the outside world, I tip-toe into my inner heart. I wait there – where all is empty and the nothingness is as present as the air I breathe. I open up the ancient story and I go to see where it all begins…searching for something that will fill the void so I can get on with my Christmas season.
Luke begins the story of Christmas with Zechariah’s steps into the sanctuary alone and empty-handed. He is a priest but he is not a father. Emptiness is the home in which he and Elizabeth pass their days. The emptiness of the sanctuary perhaps felt like home to him. But the silence must have felt ominous as Zechariah walked slowly inside. Crowds gathered outside, but he alone tip-toed into the sacred space.
Into the nothingness, he stepped with his nothingness.
Barren. Vulnerable. Empty-handed.
Into that void, the angel speaks. In an instant, the angel transforms the unknown into the known, barrenness into abundance, sorrow into joy, nothing into everything. The words bounced off of the shield he had built around him – constructed every time Elizabeth’s menstrual cycle reappeared. His nothingness and his emptiness were not merely foreigners – they were family. They were that which could be trusted.
Unable to believe the unbelievable, the angel silences Zechariah’s voice. He stumbles out of the sanctuary and walks back into the emptiness of their home. And he waits.
The baby is born. That baby goes on to make the path ready for the coming of Christ. But the empty sanctuary is where it all begins.
EMPTINESS is the birthplace of Christmas.
NOTHINGNESS is where God begins to bring LOVE into this world.
The VOID is where I connect with others because it is the essence of our humanity.
The man next to me in line at Target is another who is dancing around the edge of the void. The woman on the treadmill next to me at the gym is another who is standing in the empty silent sanctuary. The driver behind me at Starbucks is another who is mute from fear that defeat is more realistic than hope.
So in the empty sanctuary of my own inner-heart, I remember all those for whom Christmas trees and Christmas gifts will never bring them fully into the “Christmas spirit.”
The woman whose babies do not have stockings because their lives stopped too short in the womb. The spouse whose loneliness feels most profound at home in a loveless marriage. The family whose Christmas pictures are one person short for another year. The mother or father whose dreams of parenthood perfection tempt them to feel more guilt than joy this season. The child whose own identity leaves him or her estranged from family with no one to be a recipients of gifts this year.
Into the emptiness, the angel speaks, “Do not be afraid, for your prayer has been heard.”
Whether through the voice of a friend, a classic Christmas movie, or a still-small voice amidst the chaos, the angel will speak the ancient but still revolutionary good news…that God paints the most vivid strokes on a blank canvas, God molds the best jar out of unremarkable clay, that God works the hardest in the EMPTY.