I’m spent tonight. We had two family Christmas gatherings–with all precautions–and an outdoor Christmas Eve/Nativity play service in 26 degree weather. A good day full of beautiful moments, but I’m tired.
However, I need to write before I go to bed because one of my readers said something to me this evening which won’t stop playing in my head.
First, I need to set the scene. Our Nativity play included two of my nephews, aged five and one-and-a-half. The former played Joseph, the latter a wise man. They were both great in their roles. Our young wise man didn’t stroll up to the manger by himself, but was first carried by his dad and then accompanied by his mom. So I guess he was guided by both the star and his parents.
After the play, after we sang our Christmas carols and held our candles, we milled around and talked, as people do post-church services. I watched our littlest wise man. He spun himself in circles until he fell on his rear on the snowy ground. Then he got himself up and did it again.
That, I thought, is a wise man I could follow.
During the milling and conversing, a friend approached. We chatted a little and she was honest that she isn’t doing great. I thanked her for her honesty, as I almost always do when people let me know how they really are instead of faking how they really aren’t. Then she said something like, “I’ve been reading your writing and it’s helpful becaue I’m effed up.” She actually said “effed,” not the word that rhymes with “ducked.” I laughed, then told her sincerely that many of the people who let me know they appreciate what I write are effed up in one way or another. I don’t think that many people who really have it all together read my stuff. I’ll give you a moment now to decide where you fit in that.
The spinning wise child and my friend’s comments were two highlights of my evening. God appears to us in funny ways. If you haven’t understood that, you maybe haven’t understood Advent and Christmas (and I have a book i’d recommend).
First, my nephew. He was having fun. He wasn’t worried about his Magi dignity nor concerned with anyone’s opinion or judgment about him. He was spinning to make himself dizzy, on Christmas Eve. It struck me that a true wise person would feel this same freedom: “This is what I enjoy, I’m not hurting anyone, I’m gonna spin.”
Of course the juxtaposition between that role–“The Wise Man,” “The Magi,” one of the “Three Kings from the East,” who must have been wealthy to have undertaken such a journey and arrived with extravagant gifts–and my energetic, fun-loving, un-self-concious nephew struck me as funny. But why wouldn’t a wise man laugh? Why wouldn’t a wise woman spin? Why do I assume that such a person would be formal and rigid and concerned about dignity? Frankly, that journey, following a star (I love this part–how did they follow a star?) must have looked crazy and earned them ridicule when they left their comfortable homes in pursuit of…what? “A baby lying in a manger?” Really? I suspect they had discovered something they valued above their appearance to others.
My friend who thanked me for my writing wanted to backpedal because I joked a little about how people have to be effed up to benefit from what I have to say.
But I suspect grace is meaningless to people who have never known they’re effed up. You don’t have to be a trainwreck currently derailing, but if you’ve really never understood yourself as messed up, why did it occur to you that you needed grace? I’m not talking about as a comparison with others, but simple self-awareness. God offers us grace because we’re self-destructive, conflicted, confused creatures who make bad choices even when we know what the right choices would be (Romans 7).
Jesus loves us. I believe Christmas is Jesus loving us. Christmas is wild and undignified grace. God comes spinning into our world, not as the somber wise man but as the baby–my nephew gave a glimpse of that, too. The child we’re celebrating today is a lot closer to my nephew than to the image we’ve created of Balthazar.* Grace comes to us because Jesus, too, spun in circles until he got dizzy and fell down, as kids do. Grace comes to us because God chose not to stay back and observe effed up from the outside but to step in and make this home–that’s what we mean when we say “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
I’ve long since stopped having the debate with people who think God is offended by cuss words. When you feel like your insides are going to implode…then find yourself wishing they would…expressing your condition with strong language is not God’s big concern. Jesus did not become flesh and dwell among us to tell us to clean up our language. Jesus came looking for effed up people who knew they were effed up.
When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
That’s what I mean when I say if you’ve never understood yourself as effed up, why did you even consider grace? Grace states categorically that only the sick need a physician, that only a sinner needs a grace-giving, loving God. A Savior. If we’re already righteous, why would we need help?
I’m grateful that you read what I write. It matters to me. I feel this is my calling and I hope–and even pray–that reading this encourages and entertains and helps. I love that people who struggle with feeling effed up find solace here. If I could be the apostle to the effed up, I’d take that as the highest compliment.
You don’t have to be effed up to read this. I’m not the guy who will try to convince you that you are. I disagree with that approach to telling you God loves you. I’m the guy who will say “If you feel that way, I get it; I’ve been there, too.”
My best understanding of the world at the moment is that we’re the love God sends into the world. I don’t know why some seem so bent on attacking and criticizing in God’s name. I can’t understand or change that. I’m trying to learn to love myself and that only works with grace. As Jesus shows me grace, I grasp that attacking and criticizing myself–even in God’s name–does not help. Forgiving myself and trusting that God loves me, in this exact condition right now, changes me. I can offer that grace to others. That’s how I can love my neighbor as myself.
I want to spin more. I want to be less concerned with dignity and appearances and more interested in fun and joy. Like my nephew, like wise people, and like Jesus. I want to love and support effed up folks and those who aren’t. I want to tell you the truth when I’m effed up. I want to believe the grace Jesus offers us. I hope you will, too. Spin more and believe God’s grace.
*According to tradition, Balthazar, Melchior, and Caspar are the names of the three travelers who brought Jesus gifts. Balthazar’s gift was myrrh. Meaningful and symbolic, but not a fun baby toy.