The December I turned maybe nine, we arrived like ninjas in Indiana. My uncles and aunts snuck us from the airport to the graveled lane of my grandparents’ farm, where we squished low in the backseat out of sight. We wore borrowed coats and our own sneakers slicked with snow, which we tried not to squeak creeping through the back door.
I rather doubt my grandparents were as surprised as we’d hoped, since we probably weren’t the stealthiest of ninjas.
Nonetheless: I adored that Christmas. I loved the snow-crusted grass, the cousins, the sleeping like hot dogs in quilts across the living room. I loved that we were together, and the farmhouse smelled exactly right: pine, moth balls, furniture polish, apple dumplings browning in sugared pools of butter.
The moral of my story is that surprise Christmases are the best, and my sub-moral is that if you are considering showing up at my door in the next week or so, I AM VOTING YES. Karibuni, and please bring all the peppermint sticks.
Right now in Kenya, the sky is white in a way that means rain all night and all day and all night again. I wonder where people go when it rains in Zapai, that impromptu village of grass and fronds in the Congolese jungle.
While I hum about going home for Christmas in my dreams, I wonder what it’s truly like to not go home, to not have a home to go to. And I wonder if sometimes, at least in the immediate, impossible now, the not-going is actually easier, because going home means gaping at a leveled sweep of rubble where you once had a house and kitchen and squabbling chickens. And maybe it’s been raining but you can’t stop seeing the dirt beneath your shoes caked the blackest of reds.
We’re in the middle of a series from Jeff Manion called A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus, and this last installment talked about trusting God’s goodness in the desert, when the resources for survival are nowhere in sight.
I don’t think I do this well. These last few months I stand limp in church, my voice a tangled, flailing creature in my throat. I just think, when are You going to show up? They are waiting with chins tilted skyward, weary and lucent with expectation, and so maybe You could come now.
This is not my desert, and still I’m the one losing hope. Meanwhile, our Zemio peeps are somehow unrelenting, hearts oxygenated by a faith that doesn’t require houses or health or survival. They’re altogether a bunch of modern-day Jobs: Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.
The thing that’s so intriguing and vexing about Jesus is that He apparently didn’t come to fix our right nows. His purposes are infinitely more valuable than that. He came to give us Himself.
And so He walks with us into hunger and disappointment, stands with us through the betrayals and atrocities of war. There will come a day when His peace is the final word, but He hasn’t left us in the meantime. He carries us when rivers of sorrow take us out at the knees.
My conditional, faltering trust doesn’t keep Him away. It doesn’t keep Him from insisting on staying right beside me.
“Persistently I neglect to love God with my whole heart, yet his eye remains glued to this sparrow. He’s right here, out on a limb with us when he could have just watched us from the sky.”-Shannan Martin, The Ministry of Ordinary Places
This is Christmas, that God came near with His whole astonishing, backwards kingdom of mercy. This is also Christmas: He never left.
We’re a world that loves its chosen ones.
And if ever there was a Chosen One, it’s Jesus. He’s both God and God’s dearest, only-est Son in ways that bend my tiny mind. And Jesus, Chosen Jesus, was tasked with redeeming humanity and bringing an earthful of glory to God, it’s true. But in practical terms, Jesus was chosen to die.
Why do I act like God choosing me should mean anything different?
The thing I am learning still, again, the thing I will spend my entire life learning, is that the whole point of this shindig is to make much of God. And I can do that regardless of circumstance. I can make much of God while I’m living my regular life, and I can make much of God while I’m dying. My kid is gravely sick? I win my dream job? My best friend leaves? All of it is just framework for the picture of God’s glory.
Please don’t think I’m saying this is easy. I find it three-quarters impossible.
But tomorrow is brand new again. I will rise beneath a sky as white as wonder, the same sky that gives warmth and water to my friends in the center of Africa. They are not home, but they aren’t lost either. Not to God. He knows the precise coordinates of their particular snatch of jungle or borrowed city, because they’re His coordinates too.
He is Elohay Mikarov–the God who is near.