The Caveat of Christmas
R. Scott Painter is a Junior in the M.Div. program at Seminary of the Southwest. Scott comes to Seminary of the Southwest from the Diocese of Texas.
My wife and I were married in 1995. It was a summer wedding in the Pacific Northwest. A beautiful day in a beautiful place. We celebrated with lovely friends and cherished family. It was the day for which we had been waiting and preparing over the course of months and months. The culmination of those preparations went off without a hitch. Everything was perfect on the big day. Our lives would not be the same from thence forward.
The next morning, I was overwhelmed with a feeling that I’ll never forget, summed up in the words that rushed through my head as I looked over at my sleeping bride: “Oh my God, what have I DONE?!”
I was not filled with regret, I wasn’t sad to be committed to this amazing person for the foreseeable future. I didn’t doubt any of the choices that had been made, and I didn’t want out. I was filled with wonder, awe and joy at the gift of this new life that was beginning. But I was also coming to grips with the size and scope of the situation.
Overcome with the enormous sense of change that had taken place during the prior 24 hours, I knew that everything had changed. Life would never be the same; would no longer be lived on my own terms, by my own timeline, in my own way. There would be new terms, new time, and a new way forward. After more than 18 years of being married, I can attest to the truth of that revelation. Our respective trajectories were consolidated and changed.
Christmas comes with a great and joyful caveat, for the world and for each of us.
In Advent, we waited, anticipated, expected, and prepared for something more. In preparing, we became poignantly aware that something was missing—that life was incomplete and the future was fuzzy at best. Even for those of us who have observed Advents and celebrated Christmases for decades, the fresh wait of a world without God was starting to weigh heavy. We had the hope of life and light; but the darkness lingered, just a little longer.
And then it happened. God happened. In person. The joy broke through in flesh and dwelt among us. The celebration has commenced.
Emmanuel. God is with us. For once and for all.
Far from giving up on us and on a world that too often appears incomplete at best and broken at worst, God has invested fully in loving and saving us.
And it’s all just now hitting us, like God’s people have long hoped. “The people who walked in darkness/ have seen a great light;/ those who lived in a land of deep darkness—/ on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2).
And so, on Day Two of Christmas, we might look at it all and say, “Oh God, what have you DONE?!”
Today is the day of the caveat. It’s the day when all the meaning of this starts to hit us. Amidst all the array of meaning inherent in the Incarnation, there is one truth that sits less well than most others: if God has come and found a place in our hearts and in the world, then something(s), quite likely very dear to us, will be displaced. God does not get God’s way so long as we go on trying to get ours.
And none of this diminishes Christmas one bit. We are still filled with wonder and joy and amazement at God’s coming and taking up with us for the foreseeable and not-so-foreseeable future. We know that the way forward has been forever altered by the events of that starry night and blessed morn, and we have forever and ever to come to terms with what it all means.