A Very Clumsy Christmas

I love children’s Christmas programs. I love watching kids act out the story of a miracle that took place over 2,000 years ago.

Only in a children’s Christmas program do angels sing off-key and shepherds stumble against the backdrop as if they are trying to bring it down.

Only in a children’s Christmas program do you hear that an evil king was “determinated” to kill baby Jesus.

Only in a children’s Christmas program do you see a four-and-a-half-foot angel climb up on a chair so she can scream at Joseph and Mary to “GET OUTTA THERE!”

And only in a children’s Christmas program are we reminded that Christmas is a little bit clumsy. Yes, clumsy, as in: “done awkwardly or without skill or elegance.” Because, while the Christmas narrative was perfectly orchestrated, it played out in the most awkward and uncomfortable of ways. It was clumsy…

Clumsy like an awkward teenage girl being visited by an angel and finding that she has been hand-chosen by God to bring the Messiah into the world. Clumsy like agreeing to this miraculous conception when she, like the rest of us who have ever answered “yes” to the call of God on our lives, didn’t really know what she was getting into. Clumsy like stumbling her way to Bethlehem in the final days of her pregnancy only to give birth in a dirty, smelly stable.

Clumsy like the shepherds who abandoned their sheep to see this child for whom the heavens had split open. Clumsy like the wise men who alerted the king of this impossible birth as they hurried to bring the newborn king the most unusual of gifts. Clumsy like being awakened in the middle of the night and hastening away to Egypt until the threat of death exists no longer.

Somewhere over the last 2,000 years, we’ve perfected our hymns and polished our performances until the Christmas story is something that plays out effortlessly in our minds, but I can’t help but think that the real Christmas had all of the elegance of a stage filled with elementary-aged kids, stumbling over their lines and completely forgetting their stage directions.

The King of the Universe came to earth with little fanfare, revealing Himself only to a young woman, her betrothed, a handful of shepherds, and a few wise men. When you look at it that way, the Christmas story is beautiful in its simplicity, miraculous in the most ordinary of ways, and absolutely, 100% clumsy.

This year, as you remember the story you’ve heard a thousand times, I pray you see it through new eyes.

May you have a very clumsy Christmas and a joyous New Year.

Mary’s Extraordinary Faith

Everyone has their own take on the nativity story. Mine has changed in the last week or so. I think I’ve always tried so hard to picture Mary as an ordinary girl that I overlooked the depth of her extraordinary faith.

I always imagined that Mary was too wonder-struck to say anything but yes. I figured that there wasn’t much room for logic in the midst of her awe, and imagined that it was only after the celestial being, mysterious message, and rush of excitement departed that reality set in. I pictured Mary instantly going from, “Wow!” to, “Oh snap, how am I going to explain this to my father?”

But then one of my co-workers got me thinking about some other Biblical heroes who weren’t quite as willing as Mary. Think about it:

When Moses heard his calling in the burning bush, he exhausted every excuse he could conjure up.

When Jonah was asked to go to Nineveh, he ran as far as he could in the other direction.

When Gideon was told he would lead his people to freedom, he asked for sign after sign after sign.

The Bible records at least three other cases of miraculous childbirths in which all of the parents had their doubts. They all wanted proof – a sign. Sarah even laughed out loud at the very idea of giving birth to a son (and she was a married woman, so it makes the miracle that much less miraculous than the one Mary was presented with).

Here I imagined that Mary simply didn’t consider the cost of her obedience when faced with the miraculous, but in reality, she was just like all these other doubters. Though she couldn’t fully understand the magnitude of what her obedience would cost her, she could at least imagine some of the challenges she would face – the ridicule, the gossip. Still, Mary didn’t make excuses. She didn’t ask for a sign. She posed only one question: “How?” And when she was assured that all things are possible with God, she said simply, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

That’s how extraordinary Mary’s faith was.

I think the way I once envisioned Mary was similar to what my response might have been. I might have said yes in a wonder-struck moment and been flooded with doubts once the angel disappeared. That’s why God chose Mary instead of me. Not that Mary didn’t have her doubts. I’m sure the shepherds’ words weren’t the only things she “pondered in her heart.” And there’s Biblical proof that she didn’t always “get it,” but she walked forth in obedience regardless of her understanding (or lack thereof).

Today I pray for faith like Mary’s. When I feel God call me toward the seemingly miraculous things of life, I pray that my answer will simply be: “Let it be to me according to Your word.”

The Best Christmas “Tradition”

My coworkers keep asking me what my Christmas traditions are. I don’t want to say that we don’t have any traditions because I guess that we do. We’ve celebrated Christmas with my dad’s side of the family as long as I’ve lived. My mom’s side of the family always has their celebration on a different day so they don’t have to compete with the other sides of the family. That’s the one constant that has never changed, but other “traditions” are affected by different circumstances in life.

The earliest tradition I can remember is coming home after our Christmas Eve service and opening one gift in my grandparents’ presence. But that tradition ended the year my grandma died. Three years after that, we left the church in which I was raised, changing the Christmas Eve service tradition as well. I know some people have managed to hold onto their traditions, but I wonder how the same things that entertained them when they were five can still capture their attention when they are twenty-five.

There’s only one “tradition” that will hold my heart for as long as it continues to last. I love the moment on Christmas Day when everyone is called into my grandma’s living room in order to open presents. It’s not the gifts that matter to me anymore, but the joyous anticipation that lights the eyes of my younger cousins when their gifts are set in front of them. It’s the way that all 30+ Snyders fill into one small area in representation of the tight-knit family we truly are. When I’m packed shoulder to shoulder like a sardine with the people who were born to be my best friends, I’m reminded of how blessed I am to be a Snyder. Though presents are nice, I don’t need anything but the smiling faces surrounding me and the baby on my lap. That’s what I find myself counting down for every Christmas.

Three more days. Only three more days…