Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Stable in Our Heart

Christmas in Connecticut is one of my favorite Christmas movies. It stars Miss Barbara Stanwyck, who’d I watch read the phone book if it were filmed. She stars as a magazine food writer Elizabeth Lane.

She fills her articles with recipes of the amazing food she grows and cooks on her Connecticut farm, asides of the antics of her adorable baby, and loving references to her husband. She’s basically that person on Facebook, except the movie takes place in the 1940’s and no one could read how amazing her 25 layer cake made with flour she milled herself while teaching her 18 month old how to speak Chinese as her spouse finished adding a quaint but perfectly decorated guest house to their back acreage while we stand in line at Kroger’s on Christmas Eve hoping no one will notice the mashed potatoes we serve tomorrow come from a box.

Except there’s a twist. 

Because there’s always a twist. 

Elizabeth Lane is single, lives in New York, and the closest she comes to cooking is opening the menu at her favorite restaurant.

Through some twists and turns, Elizabeth tries to live up to the image she’s created for the world to see one Christmas in Connecticut and it, as it always does, all comes crashing down.

One reason I love this movie is that, without really ever mentioning a deeply true meaning of Christmas, it tells that story. Many of us rush around to find the perfect gifts, decorate our homes with the latest ideas in holiday décor, and strive for whatever image we have in our hearts and minds Christmas should be. We want to write the Facebook post, Christmas letter, or story that is merry and bright.

But the dark streets of life are ever present. The perfect gift can’t make up for the strained relationships we might have. While decorating the tree we hold an ornament that was the favorite of a loved one who died, and the grief rushes up on us. The feasts and parties can’t fill our souls, often weary from the ever-present discord we hear in the state of our nation and the world.

As much as we want to write a story of perfection, the true words of humanity and life twist and turn in us, shifting us off balance, making us wonder exactly what is so merry about this season.

Just as a young couple wondered over 2000 years ago. Two Jewish people living in an empire ruled by Rome, who at best tolerated this sect of people who had the audacity to worship a god they called the One, True God, who promised to send a savior, Emmanuel, God with us, to ransom a people captive in unrest and discord.

In keeping Christ in Christmas, we are called not so much to worry about what the local salesperson says to us as we hand over money, but more that we remember Jesus was not born all those eons ago into a world that suddenly stopped all its wrongs and said, “Wow, you’re here. Now we can get our act together.”

God doesn’t come into a perfect world. God comes into our world, messy and disorganized at best, scary and intimidating at its worst. God comes to us, just as we are – not the we that posts the filtered picture on Instagram that makes us look amazing or the we that seems all together, but the we that is simply where we are.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ, may we meet him as we are, in our honest joy and even our honest pain. The world may want the false idol of perfection. We may be tempted to embrace picture, too, thinking we have to pretend to be merry and bright to come to the manger. After all, image is everything.

But not for God. God's love that was birthed into creation eons ago continues to find a way to be born into our lives through honesty and even doubtful faith.

In fact, perhaps in our meekness, our vulnerability, and even in our fearfulness, that is when Christ truly can be born into our hearts.

Into the Darkest Hour
by Madeleine L’Engle

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.

Hungry yawned the abyss —

and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight —

and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?

Ah! wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.


Cindy Brookshire said...

What a satisfying riff on Madeleine L'Engle's poem, with Barbara Stanwick's voice reciting it in my head. We need the stable in our hearts now, more than ever. Thank you.

Sharon Lunden said...

Also one of my favorite Christmas oldies - Barbara was a brilliant actress. Especially during the holidays, I struggle to make everything perfect, to be perfect, all the while knowing I will fall on my face in disappointment each time. So often it is hard to apply the knowledge that God loves me as I am, where I am, to accept it, REALLY believe it. Why would He when I'm such a hot mess? (Are all women their own worst enemy?) My desperate prayer for the new year is to allow Christ's love to sink in father than my head knowledge and faith's belief to actual application and a wee bit of understanding it, because I don't really get it most days - kind of blows my mind.

Thank you for sharing the poem - a new one to me. Excellent.