One of my favorite Christmas traditions is putting up our outdoor nativity. As the season of love draws near, I crawl into the basement storage, pull out the Jesus, Mary, and Joseph plastic figures, carry them outside, and construct a makeshift stable with wood, straw, and cornstalks. Christmas music from my iPhone fills the air, warming my heart and inviting a smile to crease my face.
When I’m in the flow of love and laughter, when everything is bright in my world, it’s easy to sing “O Come Let Us Adore Him” as I put up the manger. In those times, I see God’s Divine Love in my family and friends, in the gift of good health, and in the love of my dog Riley, who rolls in the snow as he watches me build the nativity.
It’s harder to see God’s Divine Love when my world is rocked with suffering and loss. My eyes get clouded by the squabbling of siblings, the crisis of a loved one’s heart attack, and the realization that some of my loved ones won’t be rocking around the Christmas tree this year. During an imperfect season, my heart laments, ” Where are You, Christmas?”
During a “good” holiday season, we bring our joy and gratitude to God, thanking the Creator for the gifts we’ve been given. But, perhaps the invitation is to also bring our lament, our Where are You, Christmas? emotions to God when we can’t see Divine Love because our eyes are filled with pain and sadness.
This Christmas season has been challenging. I grumbled as I set up our nativity scene. “Go ahead,” I mumbled. “Put up your Plastic Jesus. No one cares. You’re a mess. The world’s a mess.”
Anger and sadness overwhelmed my heart. And during the midst of my pity party at the foot of Plastic Jesus, Riley ran off after the neighbor’s dog. Nothing was right. Not even my dog.
I wanted to run from my emotions. Or, better yet, flip an inner switch in my head and make O Come Let Us Adore Him my heart’s song again. But it didn’t happen.
The next morning during quiet time, I brought my lament to God. “We’re broken, Poppa. The world and me. Please, fix us. Or at least, give me the eyes to see your Divine Love in the midst of this imperfect Christmas.”
The lament felt good. I cried with Divine Poppa. I felt his sadness too. I wondered if he ever gets angry and impatient with our messiness. Was he disappointed that the first Christmas—-the one with Mary and Joseph—was filled with marvel and messiness too? Or is that the way God planned it?
Then something changed. “Look deeper,” came the silent whisper of the Holy Spirit. “Can you see my Divine Love in the presence of your family surrounding your father-in-law at Sunday Mass and brunch before his heart surgery? My Divine Love is there. Look deeper. Can you see my presence in the efforts of siblings learning to love one another better? I am there. Can you see my Divine Love in your grandchildren who sent a video from across the miles singing, ‘We love you, Grandpa. We hope you feel better soon’?
“See, I am not a plastic Jesus. I am a Jesus who lives in flesh and bones. I create Divine Love even in and through the imperfections of life. I know it’s hard. But I am here. That’s why I’m called Emmanuel, because I am with you! I am holding you. I feel your pain and sadness, and I walk through it with you, transforming you with the power of my love. Thank you for bringing it to me. Together, we can fix it.”
Those words from the Spirit echoed in my heart. The tears Poppa cried with me released the sadness and bitterness that had taken root in my soul. It’s as if God gave me a second set of eyes—eyes with which to see the presence of Divine Love.
This Christmas, whether it’s perfect or not, ask God to give you a new set of eyes so you can see the presence of Divine Love in tangible form, in ordinary people, and in experiences that become extraordinary because you see them with the eyes of faith, hope, and love. Ask God for the gift to see as Christ sees.
What’s right with the world? Divine Love.
—brian j plachta