The Face of Emmanuel

I think it’s genius! This season is so rich in spiritual meaning that over the years it has become a fantastic tapestry made up of humanity’s various threads of hunger for meaning and vitality in a confusing and harsh world. A bit narrower than that, I think it’s genius how Christmas was paired up with a date that was already deemed of cosmological significance prior to Christianity’s arrival. And a bit narrower still, I think it’s wonderful how that ebb and flow of darkness and light has played out in my own life, and maybe it is time to marvel at my own awareness of it.

Let me just take this to a personal level here for a bit. Bear with me. I’m not a woman and I don’t really speak in church. But I’m married to one wonderful woman who sometimes does speak in church, and who, ten years ago, became the return of light to my life, with a couple pivotal dates falling just about solstice time in 2001 and our subsequent embrace of our newfound relationship in 2002, even after we’d known each other for over a decade before that. I’ve spilled a lot of pixels on my blog about the details. For our purposes here, I just want to celebrate this in a place where I know it would be appreciated—both among people educated and attuned to the special nuances in this kind of story, and among friends of hers who know her personally.

The state of things a decade ago was one of massive dysfunction on the family front. In a lot of ways, the light had gone dim. That year Kelli and I shared grief around the murder of an old friend, and September 11 was a crisis that forced everyone into mourning and (hopefully) deeper questioning. It did for us. The overlapping disasters that constituted the year 2001 drove me back to a life I was familiar with but that I had left for about a decade. Kelli was a lifeline to that world during that time. But in late 2001, I was beyond my own means to make sense of the world. Kelli and I grew closer and I began to attend church again where the deeper stuff of life was the lingua franca. What resulted was a decade of constant change, but now with a devoted partner with a vast depth of character and compassion. Kelli’s presence did not stop the change or the turmoil, but she did make it safe to face it with new resolve.

This Christmas Eve, with the waiting and the hoping almost exploding in us after weeks of Advent’s buildup, I recall that time one decade ago when the light was going out, out, out—until the glimmers led to flickers that led to an increasingly steady flame. Kelli embodies the solstice for me. Light will follow darkness. Or, using the language of Christianity, she’s the face of Emmanuel for me. Her presence in my life is as clear a sign as I have that God has smiled on this speck of dust too, who a decade ago used to scoff at God-talk and such silly notions of the miraculous.

It has to be the stuff of miracle. Nothing I did earned this. Nothing I knew or believed mattered. This is grace, folks. At Christmas, the great gift is given indiscriminately to all by the shamelessly generous Giver, who doesn’t really care what you were, what you used to believe or not believe, or how you used to think. Just like none of us can stop the solstice from happening, none of us can stop God’s compassionate giving of the divine Self. And, I might say that Christianity’s enhancement of an already-great festival written into the cosmos is that whereas the solstice is just an annual event in a given hemisphere, Christmas isn’t limited that way. Every day is Christmas! Every day can be the day when the God-gift can be given and received. But for me, having such a great thing happen in my life at solstice time will always make this season special upon special.

Merry Christmas to my beautiful wife Kelli who has opened my eyes and softened my heart, and to all of you. Thanks for your submissions to this special series. It’s not over yet, though! Read on through Epiphany, and then stay around to see what follows.

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Nobody Can Change the World

A nobody can change the world—
It has happened many times.
But the best one so far was when a baby was born
On the fringes of the world
From folks no one knew
(With a bit of scandal to boot).
They were from a town of no consequence
Good only for their taxes and labor;
Forgotten by the senators and priests
Except when it was time for taxes and rituals.

A nobody can change the world?
It isn’t just for the big names in history—
Those who wield the money and power
Or who sit at the right hand of the king.
An itinerant preacher set the world ablaze with love and mercy
In a way that few saw coming—
Coming to a heart near you!
That is, if it hasn’t already rushed into you,
Consuming with unquenchable fire helped by a gust of wind!
But starting with the still, small, tired voice of Mary,
Who sang her child to sleep
Amidst the very few who were more lowly than they that evening.

Mary labored one night,
But Heaven labored much longer with the question:
How to penetrate the hearts of a troubled mankind…
When the answer came it was quite unexpected;
A marvel to be sure!
A baby who was born, lived, and died as a person of no consequence,
Except for the magic he wrought when he dared show us how to love—
First because he was innocent by the standards of the world,
And later because he was guilty by the standards of the world.

Where in the world tonight will that baby be born anew?
In that forgotten place?
Under the boot of the mighty empire?
Into slavery to the desires of the rich and well connected?

Nobody can change the world?
—One thought that must itself be changed!