The Magic of Christmas
Updated: Jan 11
Sometimes, our Bible Story Book nativity scenes seem more like a comfortable 21st century Christmas gathering than the real truth - a very young woman, physically and emotionally exhausted and afraid. She had endured the months of gossip about her pregnant state, held on to faith, only to be abandoned, sleeping in a dirty barn with her firstborn child. Was she really so calm, peaceful, and serene? We read to our children, "Spotted Cow mooed softly. Wooly lamb tinkled his bell." We envision a perfectly clean baby boy, wrapped in a white cloth and sleeping soundly, the animals standing tranquilly by as mere props.
I think that's probably completely unrealistic. And maybe it makes us began to think our lives should be picturesque too - page after page of glowing scenes surrounded in magic.
This year I have felt guilt and fear as gangsters poked their guns into the backseat of our car and yelled at my friends to give them everything in the car. I have sat with my childhood neighbors at the funeral of a friend that I thought would always be there when I came back. I have felt indignity and helplessness as a chunk of our livelihood was ripped away that night on Route Frere. No one was there to stop those gangsters driving off with our tap-tap, the day's earnings, and even our toolbox. God has blessed me with a mostly fearless nature, but a week after the CAM missionaries were kidnapped, I had to go to the doctor. We didn't have gas for the car and I felt so exposed as we drove through the city on moto. I never told Zèzè that I cried most of the way there - tears leaking out of my sunglasses and being kissed dry by the wind. I was afraid, and then angry at my fear.
Honestly, most of the plans that my husband and I have made this year, during long evenings over Cokes and pica pollo, have not yet come true.
These evenings when we sit on the porch, my husband is quieter. I don't know how to get all of his ambitions back for him. It's just painful when your reality seems far away from your dream, and the only next step seems to be just wait. And sometimes you just get tired of waiting.
And often we sit down to extra good food, only to remember the suffering of some neighbor or family member. It happens every time the food is extra perfect - we look at each other, or Zèzè says a prayer for the people who have nothing to eat, and our hearts hurt. Because we see it everywhere. The other day Zèzè pointed out a lady in the street filling a Coke bottle with dark brown muddy water after a rain. I said, "She won't actually drink it!" But through the rear view mirror, I saw her take the first sip.
In times like these it's hard to think about Christmas and see any magic in it. The other night, Eliezer asked me what Christmas activity I was missing the most. I couldn't really think of one specific thing that I miss. But I do miss seeing people carefree and joyful, being able to go out for supper or have company without constantly worrying about personal safety and money for the food. It's not that people aren't joyful here in Haiti, but right now most of them are tired. It seems like it would just take a lot of effort to muster up any "Christmas magic."
For some of you, this Christmas will be the best one of your life. Last year was like that for me. Our house overflowed with Haitian and white family both. We ate Grandma Koehn's cranberry salad on Christmas and a big pot of Haitian soup joumou for New Year's Day. We had people in and out of the yard all the time and there was food and fun for everyone. I'll never forget sitting down for Christmas dinner on our porch table - my Haitian mom on one side of me and my own mom on the other.
But I know that for some of you, this Christmas will just serve as a reminder of the things in your life that you long to change. You're probably feeling it more than I am, because you see all the perfect family gatherings, while you have a missing place at the table. You go to the parties and feel alone amid the laughter. You are waiting for something - a baby, a husband, or a new job. Your child is caught in a web of bad decisions and you don't know how to help.
We all take our turns - magical years full of light followed by years of pain. But what is the real magic of Christmas? Is it the perfect family gathering with no places missing, a month packed with perfect centerpieces, cinnamon scented candles, and finding time between parties to make gingerbread houses, drink hot chocolate, and play in the snow?
Maybe Jesus, the reason for it all, didn't promise this kind of magic.
Maybe he promised a place at Heaven's table for your loved one, and that they are free from any tiny thing that would mar their happiness, even though you miss them so much.
Maybe he proved through his life on earth that He understands just how to talk to that child that "no one understands." After all, he made friends with the woman at the well who had been through five husbands, and soon had Zacchaeus, a well-known cheater, climbing down from a tree to repay everything he had ever stolen.
Maybe he promised to send you an unexpected friend when you are lonely, or even better, to be your friend that never leaves. For Elijah, hiding all alone by the brook with his doubts and fears, watching the water evaporate day by day - God chose some special big, black birds to bring him food - morning and evening, sure as sunrise and sunset.
And if you are in a season of waiting, reassurance is all over the Bible. We see scraggly-bearded prophets surviving for years in the wilderness. We see Moses confronted by a burning bush after he had been resigned to his fate as a shepherd, and Sarah getting pregnant at age ninety.
So many times it seems like God waited until it was almost too late - he sure does love a bit of suspense! When we read the Bible, we see the final outcome. We don't experience the darkness of the lion's den as the stone crashed into place, blocking any escape. We see the ram caught in the thicket, not the heavy heart of the man raising a knife to kill his son.
Sometimes God's deliverance from a season of waiting comes suddenly and unpredictably, like the parting of an entire ocean as you hear the creaking chariot wheels and the shouts of the enemy behind you. Like months of pure boredom - suitcases already packed - doing macrame and pacing the roads to kill time - when suddenly, you are with your mom in the Miami airport, crying tears of thankfulness when all you hear around you is Kreyol. Two hours later, you spot your fiancee in the crowd. You run to him, the familiar tropical heat enveloping you like a hug. You have arrived at your fairytale beginning - the first day of happily ever after.
Sometimes God asks you to be satisfied to live "almost empty." He asks you to make a cake for his prophet with your last bit of flour and oil. He asks you to kill a giant with a rock. Sometimes he even asks you to have enough faith to do the ridiculous - like borrow oil pots from the neighbors when you have barely a tablespoon in your own pot, have 5,000 people sit down for lunch when there is only 5 loaves and 2 fishes, or give your last 1,000 goudes to someone who knocks on your gate.
This is our God. To serve him, we have to accept this life of uncertainty. We love to speak of the magic of Christmas - but magic is the mysterious, the extraordinary.
Magic is not only rocking tiny, perfect babies, sitting by the fireplace with someone you love, or hosting comfortable family gatherings with flickering candles - it's the suspense-filled stories of how all you ended up at that one beautiful moment.
Magic is something beautiful created from nothing. It's catastophes turned blessings, narrow escapes, holding hope for deliverance even after years of waiting, and being satisfied with only a little for today because you believe in Someone who can make it be enough.
Magic is the perfect Son of God, born in a barn to an exhausted young girl who probably felt like she was running on empty. Magic is a group of tired, disillusioned shepherds - probably discussing politics as they huddled round their fire that night - their faces lighting up with awe as they heard the angel song.
The magic of Christmas is what Jesus is making out of your life - no matter how broken you may feel in December 2021.