On the first day of winter—the shortest day of the year—my pastor preached about the ordinary-sacred.
She asked us about our nativity scenes at home, about the figure of Mary. “Mary is often pictured kneeling with a serene expression on her face, or sometimes with her arms lifted high in praise.”
I thought about my kneeling Mary. I thought about my praising Mary. I thought about the babe lying untouched in the manger.
“First of all, how many women who have just given birth do you know who are able to kneel?” She reminded us what it means to be a new mother. It is a messy, tiring thing, this motherhood. It’s the kind of thing that requires hands on.
“If there is any time the holy family should be pictured as hands-on,” she said, “it’s Christmas. For this is when God became hands-on with us.”
My pastor introduced us to the sculptor (and professor) Tom Clark, who grew famous for his lovable gnomes. But he also does other sculpting, including some nativities. She showed us a picture of a nativity Dr. Clark had made in which a frumpy-looking Mary holds her infant close to her body, tiny face peeking out of swaddling clothes. The baby’s head rests in the nape of Mary’s neck, eyes closed, lips full and puckered. (You can see a photo of this beautiful work of art here, on the owner’s blog.)
I met with my Spiritual Director last week and she asked me about Advent. “It feels different this year,” I told her. “Usually, my heart feels tender, vulnerable, needy during this time. But this year it just feels raw.”
We wait for this Jesus. And because we know the end of the story, this waiting is tinged with sweetness. But some seasons? Life is just hard. Some seasons are rich with the rugged journey through the longest night, heavy with the stink of the stable, rife with the sleeplessness of new birth, and the tired of doing all that is required.
These are the seasons to remember this, “Mary didn’t keep Jesus at a distance. She held him close,” my pastor said. “This is the true miracle of Christmas … Just as all babies, his greatest need was to be held in human arms … ”
Jesus is not a God who requires us to stand back and praise him from a distance. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He touched the sick, embraced the sorrowed, held little children in his lap. His life illustrates how the holy comes to us in the midst of the ordinary. Over and over again.
In the dark season, I hold Jesus close. He is as near as my next breath, as close as a tear. And when I open my arms to the raw places in the world, He opens his arms to me. This is how we make it through the longest night, this is true Advent waiting: to wait in hope, with open arms, cradling the beautiful-ordinary as sacred.
Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us: