When I started writing this blog, I set myself the goal of two entries per week. I thought that seemed reasonable. And I met that goal pretty well for awhile. Then life happened over the past ten days, as it tends to do. And like running, that other pesky discipline that keeps me healthy, blog writing went straight out the window.

It’s funny how sometimes when you need something most is when you least want to do it. I hate–no, loathe–running in the cold. The treadmill is the only thing worse. But hibernating, or “hermitting,” as my daughter calls it, is rarely a better alternative, and always leads to unpleasant long-term results. It’s the same with writing. I don’t feel like writing when my brain is scrambled eggs. And that’s exactly what it feels like, with finals upon me and papers to grade, Dave Ramsey breathing down my back as I make my Christmas list, and trying to keep up with all of my family’s holiday activities.

It’s been more than that, though. Because that’s really all good stuff.  What’s kept me from writing, I think, is that “the world is too much with [me],” as Wordsworth says.  There’s so much suffering in the world that I have no idea how to even engage, much less try to relieve. It’s overwhelming. Still, this brain ain’t gonna unscramble itself. So, I finally set aside the time today to write between giving final exams. Let’s just say my choice of places to write—my office–might not have been the best.

I pulled up Microsoft Word and stared at the screen in hopes of creating a sentence.  Instead, students scurried in and out all morning with papers, corrections, questions. One told me she was scared to come to school because of the drive-by guy with a gun situation on another campus in our state yesterday. A colleague came by to wish me a good break and ended up telling me about a rift in her family that makes her dread being off work.  I heard a podcast in which a writer I love said Human Genome Project director Doctor Francis Collins, “like all smart religious people,” is intellectually dishonest because he claims to believe in God.” Gee, thanks.

In a semi-quiet moment, I opened my inbox. Instead of more stirring of the pot, making it harder to focus enough to write, what I found there brought me slowly but surely into complete clarity. It was an email from an old friend. She wanted to buy some of my books and have me sign them for Christmas gifts. She mentioned it had been a rough week. Her loved one was one of the Marines murdered in Chattanooga back in the summer, and just now she finally got news of the autopsy report. This slashed open the wound, adding more trauma to a hurt that already seemed impossible to heal. “The holiday should be joy,” she wrote, but “all I want to do is cry.”

My heart dropped to the floor. I searched for words, a way to respond that might bring some comfort. But I found nothing. A writer is lost when there are no words. I started to spiral down into the darkness, all of the junk in the world, the pain we humans inflict on one another, the mess it all is. Full hermit mode.  I cried when I thought about my friend’s family huddled together to try to have Christmas. And then, through my tears, it began to dawn on me. This is what Christmas means.

Bono described Christmas this way: “The idea that God…became a child born in straw poverty, in sh*# and straw…Wow!” And here’s what I wrote to my friend: If ever there were a picture of our need for a savior, for the hope that was born into the mess, the poverty, the pain of our lives, surely this is it.

I imagined her family gathered for Christmas, and then I imagined Jesus there with them, because He will be. He is.

Immanuel. God with us. Jesus here. Not waving a wand that makes the bad stuff go away. Not a crutch for the weak minded. But a savior who comes to us in our mess. Click To Tweet

A shepherd who walks with us through the valley of death. A light that shines in the darkness. Hope in the midst of our pain. That’s what Christmas is.

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