It’s his first Christmas home, his first Christmas with a family. It will take but a few minutes for him to learn that ripping pretty paper leads to special treasures. I’m sure his little Christmas jammies, sticky candy cane lips and fingers, and the smile that fills his face will speak of only delight.
We could focus on his joy and wide-eyed excitement. We could choose to sigh a happy sigh as we see him running around with his sisters and brother, experiencing it all for the first time. But, we must also remember.
He wasn’t here last year and the year before that or the year before that when he was just a helpless newborn baby boy. When he was found alone, he was taken here like other children like him in that area go. He was put in a crib that belonged to others before him where he likely lay crying until he no longer cried because the energy required to do it didn’t earn a reward. The working staff fed him as they fed the others with watered down formula to meet the goal of keeping them alive; the government gives subsidies only for living children. The wood palate in the crib was visibly wet with urine as was the layers he was bundled in as he laid tied down to keep him from climbing out as he physically grew, his body using every little bit of nutrients given and wanting more. They’d take him out and show him off when the rare visitor came; he was one of the healthier ones. When the visitors left, he went back in his crib and the ayis who only resembled parents left and locked the doors.
That’s where he was.
It’s the type of picture in my head I want to erase and replace with the joy of Christmas morning complete with a Mom and Dad who are taking hundreds of pictures with a lit up tree in the background. But, putting it out of my head doesn’t put it out of existence. His story didn’t start with them; it started in the womb of a woman who did not keep him and continued at a place that is not safe for children to be, at an orphanage much harder than ones I’ve ever seen. It was bad. The picture is messy and reeks of broken hearts and lives. But, it’s also compelling; it also demands a response; I cannot simply turn away.
The incarnation is like that. God Himself, the One creator of the universe, could have found another way, couldn’t He? He spoke things into being, surely He didn’t have to enter into our mess. Surely the One who parted the Red Sea and brought manna down from heaven to sustain His people could have done something spectacular to save us from ourselves. And, I guess He did, but not in the way any one expected. His spectacular was messy and ugly and smelled like manure and moldy hay when He became one of us and laid down His sweet head in a feeding trough for cattle.
The nativity we’re used to seeing with an angelic little Christ child complete with halo and a drape to cover his little parts, the nativity scenes that fill our home this season just don’t seem to do that event justice. God became man. And, honestly, the depth of that is so entirely hard to understand that it seems easier at times to simply focus on the pretty little nativity scene and sweet sounding songs than to dare to look longer at the reality of it all. I want to turn away from it, acknowledge that it happened and it’s true but then stop looking at it because it’s just too hard to understand the hows and whys of it all. But, I can’t turn away. It demands a response.
The joy of Christmas. The glow of the colored lights of the tree reflecting on the windows. Laughing with my family about Christmas memories from our childhood. Seeing all our Christmas cards filling our dining room with pictures of families with children from all over the world. Staying up late with my husband painstakingly making Christmas trees out of peanut butter cups and one more batch of Reindeer eyes. I enjoy all of it, all that has come to fill our Christmas. But, just like how we can’t forget the reality of the earlier parts of his story even though it’s hard, I can’t and won’t forget the reality of the Christmas story even though it’s hard. Only then, when we just glimpse at the reality of the incarnation can we have a merry Christmas.