Due to the miraculous wonder of Amazon, and her silent, insouciant scroll and Buy Now feature, my bedroom is piled high with boxes.
At first I tried to consolidate them. I laboriously beat my way into each one, wrenching it open, removing its contents, turning over each item in my hand to see if it sparked joy (it didn’t) and shoving them one by one into the gigantic box that Amazon thought fit to encase some tiny, whimsical, flimsy children’s toy cocooned in tons and tons of brown paper. But then a second gigantic box arrived and I lost my will. Now they are not only piled up, but are protruding into the only walking space, and nestled among them are shoes, detritus, important papers, and a bath towel flung out to dry.
Later, terrifyingly later, when Christmas is almost down my throat, I will rush out into the highways and byways of Binghamton, compelling many other objects to come and clutter up my house, wresting them from their shelves and hauling them in to add to the mountain.
And every day from now to thence I will shout at the children to clean their rooms. Clean Them Up, because why should you have new things if the things you have already are flung down in the ditch, and you always pass by them on the other side, never stopping to rescue them and put them safely away.
That’s the thing. Christmas is so much about things. I move my spiritually angular and uptight self through a maze of materialism–glittery and cluttered TJ Maxx shelves where the delights of expensive and curiously flavored olive oil are jumbled together with tins of cocoa, and right at my back rows and rows and rows of shoes. Each sought after object must be right in front of me if only I could just lay my hand on it. The effort of finding the stuff forcibly removes me from each person who in turn occupies my mind’s eye. I couldn’t bring the person, because I’m trying to shop for him. And so I stand bewildered and lonely, trying to choose between two exotic spice blends. ‘Which will look well shoved into the obscure recesses of the pantry cupboard, never to see the light of day again?’ I ask myself before moving on.
But really, the momentary exile from the bosom of my family to shop and shop until I’ve dropped into a heap of disconsolate fatigue, though it feels foreign and wrong, is the only window I have into the lives of those surrounding my Lord. I have to look through the window I have. I can’t bash open the shutters of some other time and place, some non existent nostalgic past where the wassail was probably charmingly uncluttered by any terrifying hatchimals, but the plague was certainly skulking around in a corner.
And the anxiously frosted window of this age is coping with the poverty of spirit born of an over abundance of stuff–so much stuff that sometimes it feels one might be buried alive. That’s the ordinary day–moving piles of paper and books, washing pots and being too lazy to shove them back in the cupboard, gathering up every far flung shoe and mounting up a heap of indictment against the children. Then at the end of the day I come into my own room to bewail the pile of clothes I thought I would put away later, and the desk full of paper I don’t have the will to try to throw away. Then it comes to be Christmas.That’s when, in order to love a person, to express the affectionate gratefulness of a whole lifetime, I gather up a lot more stuff. Some of it he really needs. Some of it will make her life really bright and cheerful. Some of it will ease the inconveniences wrought by the usual ruin of time and sin–there is no more paper, for instance, because it’s all been used up, and one person is perching unhappily on a broken chair. Not so broken that it’s useless, but broken enough to be a constant annoyance rather than a pleasurable rest.
But while I’m out, my tired feet carrying me through every aisle, struggling in and out of my car in my big winter coat, I squint my spiritual eye and I try to see that tiny new made family. I mean, there they are, going as quickly as possible, but surely not at the speed they want, on their own tired feet, down the length of that well traveled highway. There are the clothes, of course, and the food bundle, and the staff, and the very small collection of money–so little, probably, if you were to count it out. It’s not like the two of them packed up a lot of books and three different pairs of shoes, not forgetting the all important cords required to charge up all my wondrous devices. What was the one thing you couldn’t forget all those centuries even before? The few things you had to take in your headlong rush on dry ground, a wall of water on either side? A kneading bowl? And yourself.
So unpacking to spend the night amongst all the animals–the low slung, stone feeding trough, it’s smooth contours and perfect placement in the room catching the eye–wouldn’t have taken very long. And then the infant, the child, the person who would handle all the stuff of this life and this world, who would suffer the cold, the heat, the tragedies, the inconveniences, whose body would in every way endure the material glories and humiliations of us all. He would be surrounded by our stuff, but it would never cloud or obscure his knowledge, his work, his plans.
It’s so…minimal. So un-extravagant. A stone slab. Some tight wound cloth. The end would be exactly the same as the beginning. But in between, boxed in by poverty and suffering, all the richness of God would overwhelmingly dwell. Nothing would be held back that really mattered. No mercy or kindness or grace would be lacking. The glory of God would sit in chairs, recline at dinner, stride through the elegant, gracious temple court.
Wherever you are, struggling through the stress and the news and the bills and the expectations and the lists, one thing of perfect beauty is even closer than you could ever conceive. But it is not a thing. It is The Person. He is in your mind and in your heart. He is there whether you have too many things or none at all. He is there in your loneliness and in your grief, in your exaltation and in your joy. Nothing of value will he withhold from you if you cling onto him now. Indeed, it is himself that is given. And he doesn’t ever fade, or perish, or fall away.