Wednesday, December 21, 2005

There was room at the Inn...

but I think that is because Steve had made reservations several weeks ago. We checked in at 4 PM. I slipped into a warm bubble bath at 5 PM before pre-dinner cocktails in the enormous library and a delightful dinner in The Dining Room downstairs. A candlelit stroll through the Biltmore Estate filled my head with visions of sugar plums, parties, and horse-drawn carriage rides in decades gone by - all hosted by the Vanderbilt family. Of course, being moved along at a not-so-leisurely pace by earphoned security guards, ruffled and crushed by fur-coat wearing blue-haired ladies woke me from my celebratory stupor and spoiled the mood a tad. No matter. We picked out a few postcards for the children, a gift or two for family and friends, and made our way back to the Inn. We awoke at 9:20 on Saturday morning, quickly showered, packed, and made our way down to The Dining Room for breakfast before our 11 am check-out. The twenty-five minute wait was more than we were willing to endure, so we headed into downtown Asheville for breakfast, shopping, and lunch before heading back down the mountain into the Piedmont of North Carolina. It was a splendid way to enter a new decade of life.

As we walked the chilly streets of Asheville, as we shivered between shops there, as we listened to accounts of war, poverty, loss, and injustice on public radio in the car, as we drove through towns that had no power as a result of a recent ice storm, we became increasingly mindful of how blessed we are. We and our children are healthy while so many suffer with asthma, diabetes, and cancer. Steve has a job for which he is well-compensated while there are so many who are out of work and homeless. I am able to stay home with our children, homeschool them, travel widely with them, and plan future jaunts, while so many simply long for a reliable car to get back and forth to work and school. Ours is a favored life indeed.

When I compare the way I celebrated the 40th anniversary of my birth to the birth of Christ, the contrasts are glaring. It hardly seems fair that the One for whom all this Christmas hubbub is named was born into a temporarily homeless family to an unwed mother, at a time when promiscuous behavior was punishable by stoning. It hardly seems fair that the One whose glory the angels sang to shepherds in the field slept in a most ignoble place normally inhabited by beasts of burden. During the early years of His life, many of which were directed by the wisdom gleaned from dreams, this Holy One was spirited off to Egypt as an infant, brought back to Nazareth as a toddler, raised as a carpenter to adulthood, then died nailed to a cross made of the same kind of wood He had most likely carved into cradles, tables, and doorposts. His was not a favored life, at least not by today's standards.

I have heard many sermons that attempt to explain the Christmas story too simply. Some pastors say that He was born poor so that I can be rich. His simple birth paved the way for my rebirth. His humble beginnings parallel His humiliating death. I'm forgiven because He was forsaken. I'm accepted; He was condemned. I believe all of that is true, and in my head it makes sense. But my heart, my soul, the truest, hungriest places in me yearn for something more than that which can be explained logically. In fact, I am glad that it's not as simple as a three-point sermon of phrases that all begin with the same letter. Spare me the superficiality.

This story of Christmas is truly a mystery. May I never fully understand it. May I never be able to diagram it, parse it, conjugate it, and explain it away. May the wonder of this wonderful holiday always outstrip and overwhelm my small imaginings, my meager ponderings, and all the simple analogies my mind can conceive. The Love that Christmas embodies outshines all the glittery jewels I will ever own, is sweeter than all the cookies I will ever bake, and is deeper than any affection I now have and ever will have for everyone I know and claim to love.

Yes, my birthday celebration was special. The shopping was fun. The milk chocolate pecan frogs (The name "turtles" is owned by Nestle!) we found at The Chocolate Fetish were well worth the wait. Steve's company was much enjoyed, as was his remarkable generosity. But beneath, above, and beyond all of the tinsel, the lights, the trees, the food, the Frangelico, and the new earrings, there remains the quiet hum of anticipation, the undeniable expectation of something inexplicable, something that never changes, but is ever new.

Rob Mathes says it best in what is still my favorite Christmas song:
Bundled up, I know what's waiting for me
More than a pretty package next to the tree.
Something else, a gift far greater I know
Born in Bethlehem long ago...
To us is born
Every December anew
A love that's unbelieveable
Given to me, given to you...
I'm waiting here for Love again to be born.

May Love be born in your heart this Christmas.
All over again.
For the first time.

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