I've taken a break from posting--a Christmas break. Not a holiday, winter or some other politically correctly termed break, but a real, live Christmas break. Christmas in the western tradition of the word, by which I mean lots of food consumption, presents bought, wrapped, unwrapped, stockings hung, unhung and rehung. Lots of surprises by way of those stockings and presents. Back in my youth, when my friends and I checked in with each other on Christmas day, the first question asked was always, "What'd you get?" And I got a whole lot of really, really great things. Including the very best gift I've ever gotten. SK (who got the idea from her older sister) got me an elephant for Christmas. And I mean a real, live 18 month old elephant orphan. Well, to be fair, I'm merely fostering him, but still...his name is Chemi-Chemi and he lives in the Baby Nursery at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya. He's a very rascally little guy, my Chem-Chem, something of the class bully, always getting into pushing matches with his mates, but as the girls say, he's bound to keep me entertained. And his dominant personality will serve him well when he has to live alone as an adult bull elephant. I can't begin to tell you what this gift meant to me. Short of going to Kenya and meeting Chem-Chem and his 'family' (which I would absolutely LOVE to do...), this gift is the closest thing to that dream I've ever had.
But it's also been a Christmas break because as I go through the days with my very American traditions, and, yes, my middle-class values, I'm also trying to find some quiet within to dwell in the beauty and mystery that is this season. The days leading up to Christmas didn't allow for such quiet. I set myself a deadline for homemade gifts that was just about the death of me. And Beve has some metaphoric scratch marks to show for it. Not only was I hard to live with, he couldn't even figure out what would set me off next. Not exactly the kind of joy and gladness of one who awaits the Christ child. Instead, Christmas was something of a breath released. For Beve as well. In the days before Christmas, I dared not write for the ugliness.
Then we went to church Christmas Eve, and I listened to a man read the story of Luke chapter 2. The words of this story are familiar from my earliest days when my father read us that story immediately after Mom read "The Night Before Christmas." Because of Dad reading Luke, I memorized those verses long before I ever knew Jesus personally. But last Friday night when I listened to a different voice read those words, they held something new for me. This week I needed a savior born. This very week I needed to find Him, because this very week, I'd been living in the dark night of sin, replete with very me, as Madeleine L' Engle calls it.
So I've taken the last few days to dwell in the quiet barn in Bethlehem where that small wonder of wonders made His first dwelling on this planet. In the middle of the craziness that is ordinary life with young adults and aging parents and one legal giant, here He is. Come to think of it, you add the dogs and my new elephant, we're a menagerie that would fit right in there in Bethlehem. But that's the point, isn't it? That my menagerie, and yours, my life and yours, are exactly the environment in which that baby came to dwell. Right here in the midst of our grubby little lives. My ugliness, your smallness. Right here, right now. That baby just lies there doing baby things, just plain old baby things like eating, sleeping and filling his swaddling cloths, yet He's already changed everything.
So I'm dwelling here in this barn with my menagerie, staring at this innocent baby. Still waiting, still watching, and...okay, adoring. I don't even want to hurry away from this manger to the next stage of His life. This baby stage is so short, and there is such joy in it. So I'm resting here. Taking a Christmas break here at the manger in Bethlehem.
(I'll find a way to get to Kenya another day)