See Luminosity

Seeing God’s Glory in a Christmas Without a Baby

Seeing God’s Glory in a Christmas Without a Baby

It’s funny how grief works. You can be going along pretty well, moving forward and feeling relatively normal, and then, all of a sudden, WHAM! Grief hits again.

I don’t know exactly what triggered it – spending time with my therapy baby, seeing other friends’ newborn adopted baby, getting news of friends’ baby’s terminal diagnosis, the fact that it’s just 2 days away from Christmas that we’re supposed to be celebrating with a baby…but it hit the last two days. I got my first experience showing my daughters how to change a baby’s diaper…with someone else’s baby. All of our baby things are packed up in the attic, because there is no one to use them. We didn’t buy a single baby toy for Christmas. Because of transporting my therapy baby the other day in our baby car seat, I am riding around with a baby seat in the van – with no baby in it.

There are just so many reminders, so many realities, that our baby is gone.

This afternoon I put an ornament, with Dominic’s picture in it, on the tree. An ornament. That’s what we’ve got left for celebrating Christmas with him. Instead of watching a spiky-haired, chubby 5 month old smile at us while he grabs at the shiny balls on the tree, we have a measly round frame with a picture inside it, hanging off of one of the limbs on the tree. How did we sign up for this?

It’s a struggle, this season, to see God’s glory. To stand, with face turned toward heaven, and praise, instead of collapse into a heap of despair. The hope of Christmas is so easy to feel when things are going well. This Christmas, I confess, I feel a hole. A gaping hole that threatens to suck me in if I give into it; if I focus on it instead of on Jesus.

Where is God’s glory this Christmas?

There’s no doubt that there was glory at the first Christmas. You can’t exactly have angels in the story and not have glory. But as I re-read the Christmas story, in light of my own loss, I see the glory differently. Nativity scenes and Christmas pageants tend to portray a beautiful, bucolic scene radiating with light and joy. Happy parents, sleeping baby, adoring shepherds, singing angels. But when I examine the biblical account more closely, I see a different picture.

Let’s start with Zechariah. When God’s glory appeared to the future father of John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for Christ, he was burning incense, as part of his regular duties as a priest. God’s glory was revealed to Zechariah in the form of an angel (and through the miraculous words the angel spoke about his wife having a son in her old age), and Zechariah was just going about his job. Then there’s Mary. Although we don’t know what she was doing when God’s glory came to her through Gabriel, we know that she was in her hometown, Nazareth, and that she was “pledged to be married”.  Normal town, normal plans. God’s glory came to Joseph, also, in the form of an angel, while he was asleep, telling him to marry Mary and that she carried a child conceived of the Holy Spirit.  Sleeping, like every person who exists. The shepherds? They saw God’s glory in “a great company of the heavenly host”, who announced the birth of the Savior to them. When it happened, they were “keeping watch over their flocks at night” – in other words, doing their regular routine duties to make a living.

God didn’t take these people away to the mountain top, or bring them out of their troubled daily existence to show them His glory. No, they were washing clothes and taking care of children and watching sheep and doing their everyday life stuff. They weren’t at a Christmas musical, or a weekend retreat, nor were they sitting around looking for the Lord. Nope. God’s glory showed up, unexpectedly, in the middle of everyday, mundane life.

I’ll bet, that before each one of them saw God’s glory in their respective experiences, every one of them had had something not-so-nativity-sceney happen in the course of their day. I’ll bet at least one of the shepherds had complained that night about how cold it was, and that Mary had lamented at least once about how long a walk it was to the well, and that Joseph had had just a few piqued feelings, pre-angel, about this fiancée of his being pregnant by who-knows-whom. I’ll bet they had all struggled to make ends meet, and provide food for their families, and had had arguments with their spouses. I mean, Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant when Mary came to visit her. You can’t be hosting family in your sixth month of pregnancy without a few non-Christmas-card-worthy moments.

Even the birth of Jesus Himself. The pinnacle of God’s glory, coming to earth. He came in a place where they kept animals. Probably a cave (in contrast to the ubiquitous barn scenes most commonly portrayed), Jesus’ birthplace was the floor of an unsanitary animal shelter. Dirt, animal feces, food remnants, the odor of livestock – the unkempt, untidy residue of life being lived. The Son of God came in the midst of the mess of everyday life.

I’ll bet someone, somewhere in the Christmas story – someone who saw and experienced God’s glory in the miraculous birth of the Messiah – had lost a child.

Yet, God’s glory came. Right there, in the middle of their messes and their faults and their frustrations and their upcoming marriages and their jobs and their deaths. Each of them got to experience God’s presence and God’s word personally, and when they did, they were changed forever. Transformed. God’s glory, outshining everything in their routine, commonplace, everyday life. God’s glory, in the form of a baby, shifting the universe so that life for humanity never would be mundane again, because we could now have a relationship with the essence of Life.

This gives me hope.

God’s glory, this Christmas, is in the same place it was 3,000 years ago. It is found in everyday life. It is found in the mealtimes and arguments and celebrations and sicknesses and, yes, losses of daily existence. His presence, His personhood, His word – they are with me, every moment. Because of the glory come in the form of Christ as a baby, I now have access to that glory everywhere and at every time. It was, after all, that baby that later said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). I believe. And I want to see, this Christmas, without my little man, the glory of God.

This Christmas, whenever I start to feel the hole, I will seek God’s glory to fill it. Because His glory is here, in my everyday mess. Yep, the Christmas where God’s glory came in the form of a baby reminds me that His glory is even in the mess of a Christmas without a baby. Lord, help me to see it.

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