The riotous storm of fall has passed with its inflamed color and last bounteous harvest. The fallen leaves that once crunched with a scratchy percussion underfoot are now either soggy and silent or piled into compost or blanketing next year’s potato beds. Trellises have been cleaned. Bunnies tucked into their winter home. The last mowing done. There is peace.
Perhaps gardeners understand the old hymn “Silent Night” better than most. Christmas season marks a period of true quietness and contentment in the garden that is unparalleled. It’s not that work can’t be manufactured, but the sense of urgency is gone. Winter gardens are beautiful, silent things. They hold lovely memories and joyful expectations all at once, but I’ve never felt either of these things press on me in December. They just sit patiently in the cold and breathe. There’s no rush. The ground is being renewed, the world above is quiet, the seeds are slumbering. Be still. All is calm.
I cannot number the disappointing Christmases I’ve had. Based on my age, it’s probably around forty. Maybe not quite, but I’d guess that’s pretty close.
As a wee lass, I remember so many holidays as an enormous crescendo of anticipation: parties, dinners, shopping, decorations, and more, leading to a few exciting hours in the morning on December 25th. The minute the last bow was pulled, the last paper torn, the last box opened, that last gasp of air at the most exciting present saved for a big finale might as well have been the bursting of a balloon. Deflation and exhaustion would fill the room as tangibly as the magic had an hour earlier. Stockings would sag as they’re re-hung on the mantlepiece. Adults would scurry off to prepare a delicious feast that would only sate appetites for a few hours. And the tree! Oh, the poor tree. Even though it was still gloriously adorned, it might as well have been stripped and burned, for the rich soil of gifts that had surrounded it that morning had vanished.
It is barren.
As an adult, I’ve more often felt disappointment over the greed and commercialism of Christmas. I’ve been frustrated by the lip service offered to the One in the manger, while genuine adoration of the Christ Child’s advent seems elusive. I am regularly irritated at my children’s grasping for another gift or their sense of entitlement to the items they cordially requested on their wish lists. This has often led me to anger. I long for Jesus to be gloriously enthroned, made flesh among us that we might revel in His beauty and majesty, but every year find that we are strangers and pilgrims, walking dusty roads and marking miles.
I realize that the above paints a pretty grim picture of Christmas, and yet our celebrations are anything but grim. They are beautiful, and I make every effort to prepare Him room, to clear spaces in our home and schedules and hearts to lean into the stable for just a little while and gaze in wonder. It just never quite feels like enough. No matter how many beautiful carols we sing or play, how many mischievous gifts we carefully craft, or how much butter flows through my kitchen, there is a lack. There is a curse. It lingers in the dark corners of discontented hearts. It is in the screams of toddlers with broken, new toys. It encroaches on sweet gatherings with a voice of strife and bitterness, turning beauty to ashes. It crushes down on this earth and her inhabitants, leaving pain and grief, sickness and sorrow in its wake.
All of ancient Israel felt it. They felt the anticlimax of Messiah promises that never seemed to materialize. In fact, when their long-expected Savior finally came, it was not the orthodox Jews who were watching the skies for the signs of His birth. Far eastern mystics are not really among the cast of characters I would expect to find in a story of Jewish history and tradition, but those wise, wise men were the ones quietly studying the skies and the scrolls. They even had the insight to know that the king they found in Jerusalem was not the one they were seeking. And while they left Bethlehem under warnings of violence and terror, I think they returned home knowing they had found the One who would put all things right. Eventually.
Imperfect does not have to equal discontentment. The stable was imperfect. Part of its beauty is this very truth: Christ came into the world to save sinners! The humble surroundings of His birth emphasize the glory of His coming rather than diminish it. It is the unexpectedness of Royal Deity in a shepherd’s hut that makes us double-take and stare in wonder. Bethlehem is truly magical because of it’s raw-majestic juxtaposition.
I think there’s a part of Christmas that is meant to leave us wanting. The first coming of Christ was not meant to satisfy our souls, but to whet our appetites and give us a peek at what is coming. If Christmas was meant to be the climax of history, then the state of Planet Earth and humankind would be as good as it will ever be. Perhaps this is the reason that so many people feel discontentment pulls up a seat their celebrations. They lay their expectations on a tree, a meal, a gathering, a gift, but these things can never sustain those hopes. But all of these beautiful moments and mementoes are intended to remind us that Jesus came once and is coming again. At that advent, there will be no more watching the skies for angels! We will no longer know pain over sin and death! Our longing for goodness, truth, and beauty will be met in ways even the most imaginative among us cannot begin to imagine.
So where does this leave us in this middle ground? My garden is not perfectly cleaned and put to bed for winter. There are still pumpkin vines and sunflower stalks that need to make their way to the compost. But even in it’s less-than-ideal state, there is an enraptured feeling of serenity. Christmas will not be perfect. My children will complain over brussels sprouts. I will feel that we ought to have sung carols longer into the night. There will never be enough candles.
But it is good, for we will worship at the manger, though we are under a curse that brings with it violence and darkness, and we keep watching the skies for the King who will come to make all things right. The broken ground is being renewed, the world is at peace, the Seed is slumbering in a manger. Be still. All is calm.
Featured image by Jordan Durbin and used with her kind permission for Cultivating.
Second-generation homeschooling mom of five wee snickbuzzards, Jordan Durbin is a maker of humble pottery, fine artist, calligrapher, gardener, pickle maker, baker of all things gluten-inclusive and butter-laden, violinist, vocalist, rabbit raiser, wife of one good man, lover of her blessed Redeemer. She has a Bachelor’s degree in fine art from Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. She is an avid coffee drinker, reader, and published children’s book author and illustrator. She aspires to proclaim the resurrection with every moment of her life.
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