I grew up with the Amy Grant & Mariah Carey Christmas CD's as staples for the month of December. I remember that on the day after Thanksgiving, Mom would drive Thomas and I to Kansas City to see Nana, etc, and it was on that day each year that we broke out the Christmas tunes. I would sing "All I Want for Christmas is yoooooou baaaaaaaby" until my throat hurt. I really like music in general, and I really like that Christmas music is only for a special period of time once a year. Nothing makes me crave something quite like telling me I can only have it for a month of the year does.
Just as a funny aside, when I was a wee one, I loved the Amy Grant version of "Emmanuel, God With Us," but I genuinely thought for most of my childhood that the words were "Emmanuel, Barnabas." (Before you judge me, sing it. It sounds right.) I can just hear me, 9ish years old, singing my little heart out. And I can just hear Thomas, 3 years my junior and know-it-all-y as can be, "ARE YOU SAYING BARNABAS? Mom, listen! Megan thinks its Barnabas!!!" Then I probably hit him and we both more than likely cried, but I'm just guessing here.
Not much has changed about much, including the fact that I often am mistaken about the meaning of things. (And Thom is usually there to correct me, but that's another story for another time.) Now, I can't say I've ever really been searching for the "meaning of Christmas," at least not the way they do in Lifetime Original Movies or Hallmark specials, but nevertheless, I think I finally get it. I think this is a big deal. Really big, actually. Bigger than I have words to describe, in fact, which is the kind of thing that I find at once both frustrating and delightful.
In church last Sunday we talked about Emmanuel. Just like I once thought Amy Grant was singing about a guy with a funny name, I don't think I really understood Emmanuel until last Sunday. The concept that God is here, with us, is hard. Lots of bad things happen. God is there? It is hard for me to believe that in the past two years of loss and suck that God was here. I hear so many people cry out in their pain, where is God? Why hasn't God shown up? Our pastor pointed out that more often than not, those three words are uttered as a question in desperation. Far less often are we sure of it.
Christmas doesn't just bring the answer to those, our most personal pleading - it is the answer. Baby Jesus is Good News. He shall be called Emmanuel, which means "God with us." The babe didn't erase our pain or guarantee us a life free from sadness, loss, rejection, hurt, loneliness, addiction, anger, or resentment which I think sometimes is what I expect "God is here" to look like. But alas, Christmas doesn't signify that we won't have to deal with that stuff. And really, how much more powerful - personal - is a God who does not remove our pain but steps right into it with us. I don't know. Some days this makes more sense to me than others, but right now, I feel it in my very bones. Emmanuel is not a question. It is a promise that's been kept.
There are times, not often mind you, when I get a feeling that I like so much that I wish I could bottle it up and give it away. I don't mean to imply that I have a monopoly on warm fuzzies or that you are not capable of getting it yourself. Probably even more, I'd like to save it for myself for the days when my bones feel less sure of things. I want to take it off like a jacket and give it to the people I know who feel sure of nothing right now other than that life is hard, because I was there and it was awful.
It is possible that being there was the only way I could get to this place, though. It is possible that I had to be there in order to really, finally, fully feel the peace I felt last Sunday when I heard that God is here.
It's not a question, it's an answer.