As much as I looked forward to it when I was younger, as awesome and amazing as I imagined it would be when I was a child, I now have officially changed my mind. I don’t like it very much anymore that I am a grown-up. Maybe getting there, and those first few years possibly were fun. You got to stay up later. You got to hang out with friends more. You got to spend your money on things you wanted—food, clothes, entertainment, the necessities of life. You got to experience the freedom and exhilaration of being independent, including moving out of your parents’ house, paying rent, eating what you wanted, going to bed when you wanted, chasing your dreams, falling in love, making plans for the future, working a job, getting a credit card, shopping, paying bills, determining what’s important because it means something, finding your place in the world, trying new things without parental approval. Yeah, you did. And don’t deny it.
And then slowly, almost unnoticeably, things started to lose their luster and get old. Some things you once enjoyed very much were no longer as interesting or exciting, like playing in the snow, and driving around in the snow, which eventually turned into shoveling the snow. You discovered you could no longer eat everything you liked, and had to stay away from things that gave you IBS. Coffee was fun, until it didn’t work when you needed it to work. And when it worked too well, you had to find something else to help you sleep. You enjoyed an active, even vigorous lifestyle as a young person, but soon had to be more careful, so you don’t send yourself to the ER, grandpa. Then a number of typically reliable things stopped being reliable, or stopped making sense, or got super-annoying, or broke down and couldn’t be fixed, and had to be replaced. And it would just happen again and again, like avoidable customer data security breaches, and intentionally fake and misleading news, and harassment in the workplace, and the abuse scandal in the church, and incivility in our political discourse. And as the years go by, rude people just keep sucking the life out of you, and angry people just keep getting angrier, and the name-calling and yelling is out of control, and there’s less and less joy in the world. It’s just exhausting.
So Christmas comes around again as it does every year, and the bright lights and seasonal decorations go up, and familiar Christmas carols play on the radio, and loads of holiday advertising gets us in the mood to consume unnecessary calories and empty our bank accounts. Meanwhile the scriptures speak words of comfort and consolation, healing and peace, but we have difficulty connecting. So we compartmentalize. That is, we temporarily set aside all the bad stuff, so we can enjoy a momentary break from the chaos. Then at some previously determined point in time, we set aside all the fun stuff, and reluctantly or happily as the case may be, return to the chaos. Eventually though, even that gets old. And it seems like we’re just going through the motions.
But we do this all the time. Growing up means we learn to multitask, to keep multiple balls in the air because life will always have a lot going on all at once. It can’t be helped. We can’t just turn off the chaos like we turn off the tap. Instead we let some things recede into the background, not completely out of sight, but just enough to keep an eye on them. Survival is such a tenuous balance. But survival is not really the point though. There has got to be more to life than making it to see another day.
And perhaps that’s why when God decided to intervene in human history, when God decided to help us break that frustrating cycle of constantly shifting our focus and energies from life’s important truths to the surrounding chaos, it wasn’t going to be a quick and easy fix. If you haven’t figured it out yet, God isn’t into quick and easy fixes. Instead, God wants to tell us that some things would definitely require our attention, our involvement, and our assistance.
Picture a child before you. If all of a sudden your heart rate just picked up, then not THAT child. Picture a child sleeping snugly and peacefully in its bed. I say sleeping, because if the child is awake, even if it’s not agitated, we will find ways to engage with it. Instead, picture a sleeping child and observe what’s going on in you. It is not difficult to want that kind of guilt-free slumber, that all-encompassing trust and dependence on others for protection, and that tremendous potential for a glorious and awesome future. Now picture the newborn Son of the Virgin Mary asleep in a manger that very first Christmas. It was a much different Christmas than we are familiar with. There were no bright twinkling lights, no tacky seasonal decorations, no Christmas carols on the radio, no animated TV specials, no holiday advertising. But there was chaos of every kind going on elsewhere in the world—political, environmental, personal. And God knew this, and still chose to walk right into all of it.
God proved his commitment to helping the human race better understand and manage our complicated lives by immersing himself in our chaos, and becoming one of us, or in the words of one of the songs we sing in this holy season, “when the Image of your glory wore an image like our own.” The Almighty and Eternal God clothed himself in human flesh and was born a helpless child in time. We mark that glorious moment in history with rejoicing and gladness. And with the passing of generations, this awesome remembrance has been recast and disconnected from the rest of the story. We know it is just the beginning of a journey that God will take with us through every facet of our humdrum joys and struggles. By wearing an image like our own, God wants us to know he is in the thick of things with us. And whether the Christmas season is for us one of wonder and joy or sadness and grief, we do not walk our journey alone. After all, the angel said his name would be Emmanuel, which means “God-is-with-us.”
So growing up into adulthood is likely the only option. It was for me. It is for most of us. But I could have profited from a greater understanding and ability to better manage the chaos that life sends my way, if I had just picked up on this truth sooner. The joy and wonder that marks this holy season is a clear and powerful symbol of God’s commitment to the human family, that God would accompany us on our journey. Or we can also just choose the well-worn path of compartmentalization, of going through the motions of seasonal Christmas joy and goodwill devoid of God while consigning our chaos to the background, just to pick right up where we left off after the new year. Or we can do something similar to what God did. In Jesus who became a child, God wore an image like our own. On the day of our baptism, we put on an image just like his. Our God is one of us. Our God walks alongside us on our journey.
Rolo B Castillo © 2018