When I was a kid, I celebrated Christmas because my family did. When I became an adult, I celebrated Christmas because it was fun and festive and warm. When I became a follower of Christ, I began celebrating the birth of Jesus because his birth was the beginning of life instead of death, hope instead of despair, and light instead of dark.
In history, Jesus was born during the Roman Empire. In my life, Jesus broke through on December 20, 2008. By that time, I was a life-long sinner and I knew it. But I couldn’t pull it together, clean up my act. For years, I tried to be better, to be stronger when temptation came. I tried to love easier and work harder. I tried to be more patient and less resentful. I tried to stay when I wanted to leave and be present when I wanted to dream. I kept falling short and could not make any progress. One step forward, three steps back. The desire to patch up old hurts, cover over shame, and prove my worth drove me to dark places literally and figuratively. And, an un-fillable hole threatened to swallow me body and soul when the room was quiet and I was alone.
I had heard about Jesus growing up of course: Jesus was born in a stable to Mary and Joseph, and he was the Messiah for whom the Jews had been waiting for hundreds of years; he was Immanuel, "God with us;" “three kings of the Orient” brought him gifts when he was born; he was a carpenter; he performed miracles and lived a sin-free life; he was beaten and crucified; and he rose from the dead. The thing I didn’t know was what any of this had to do with me (or anyone else, for that matter). As I grew up, I always believed in God, but again, did not understand how to relate to him or who he was. I pictured a white-haired, bearded guy in the clouds who peers down on the earth from time to time with an air of disinterestedness.
In 2006, at a point where darkness and sin and self-loathing grew in me like an internal, spreading disease, I decided to cry out to God. I was not sure if God heard things I said or wrote or thought. I did not know whether he would respond to me or how that might happen. I sat down at my computer. My fingers moved across the keys without stopping and by the end, I was exhausted and tears streamed down my cheeks, but I had written this poem:
Oh, God! Where are You?
Why can’t I see You?
Why can’t I feel You?
Where are You, oh God?
Oh, God! Where are You?
I cannot see You!
I cannot feel You!
Please, God, hear me!
Have You ever seen me?
Will You ever see me?
Will I ever feel You?
Where are You, oh, God?
Why do others see You wherever they go?
Why do I see You nowhere?
Why are my eyes closed to You?
Have You been here?
Was it You, God,
Who created the light of my life,
My blue-eyed angel . . . it had to be You.
Are You testing me and I’m failing?
What happens if I fail forever?
What happens when I’m standing at Your gates
And I see You for the very first time?
Will You let me in, or forsake me because I
Could not and cannot find You?
I’m trying . . . or am I?
What takes control of me so that I am blind to You?
Greed? Vanity? Lust? Self-indulgence?
I have never known You, and I’m
So sorry this did not occur to me until now.
Have You abandoned me? Have I lost You?
I will continue searching, please forgive me.
Oh, God! Please, please find me
Because I cannot find You.
Then I turned off my computer and I waited. Not for hundreds of years, but for two and a half years. Then one day, he came. The day seemed like any other when it started. I was still a sinner. I had not changed. I had not pulled it together. But that day would be the day, and my life will never be the same. On that day, I was saved from the sin and shame that had begun to overtake me. On that day, Jesus was born in me, and I was clothed with his goodness. On that day, Jesus began to transform my life. My poem this time was one of thanks:
You found me!
You found me!
I feel you!
Thank you, God!
I have been lost,
But now You’re here.
And I’m found .
Oh, God, I am found.
Now, I’m among those who see You,
And You are within and without.
My eyes are open,
My heart is bursting.
You love me!
You will use me!
You will guide me!
You will help me!
You have saved me!
You sought me out and
Though I failed,
You saved me!
You saved me!
You have taken me, just as I am.
You knew all along
And you never stopped searching.
You searched me out and
Now, I am found.
God heard me. He answered my cry. He is changing my heart and my desire is for him. My sin is forgiven. My shame and fear dissolves in the power of his love. The darkness fades in his light. My old hurts are healed by his grace. His peace is within me. My worth is proven by his death on the cross.
For me, celebrating the birth of Jesus is not about decorated trees, eggnog, and Santa Claus. And it’s not about presents. For me, celebrating the birth of Jesus is intensely personal because he loves me, saved me, and changed my life forever. His grace and mercy and love are beyond my ability to understand. I celebrate him, honor him, worship him, live for him. He is worthy.