Thanks and praise be to God for all He has done in my life, saving me from myself over and over again. By rights I should be dead by now, certainly not having lived to the age of 48, and certainly not with a fantastic wife, daughters and entire family still able to enjoy each others’ company, along with job, house and all of the little things that make life more wonderful than I usually even admit.
I don’t have the Christian thing down; after reading Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments many years ago, at a time of soaring pride and thoroughgoing agnosticism, I assented intellectually to the fact that Jesus is the savior – but the demons also believe this, so simply knowing the fact is not much to hang my hat on. Hence I do not call myself a Christian at this time.
But I am a hanger-on to the Good News, which is why Christmas has always meant so much to me. In the Christian narrative, the Resurrection is essential, and deservedly stands as the element which provokes so much wonder and debate – but when you think about it, the Incarnation was really quite the trick. God-Outside-Of-Time is not easily construed as also one particular human being. Logically, comparing the essential natures of the two, it does not make any sense at all.
Yet that is what Christianity proclaims and what makes it unique, and what is symbolized by the Christmas holiday: In the midst of our broken and fallen state, God reached out to us. Because we could not do it, he made the first move – even though it defies all comprehension.
This notion of Divine grace which makes no sense at all tracks with my personal experience. I am fallen beyond all description, my attempts at “goodness” have in every instance been eclipsed by overwhelmingly bad behavior, and in these 48 years my “merit ledger sheet” is deeply, deeply in the red. Morally and spiritually, I am a frickin’ basket case. But God has seen fit to keep me alive.
In my daily life I barely have the faith of a mustard molecule, much less the whole seed. The world imposes challenges to faith that, to me, are currently insurmountable. So for me to ascend the steps to God – fuhgedaboudit. On my own volition I can’t even get near the staircase. There is so much wrong with the world and my personality and the universe that Divinity is billions of light years away from my outstretched arms. It is impossible to even conceive of the number of years it would take for me to find the way to God.
So what happens is, God finds a way to me. When my guard is down He infects me with compassion and appreciation for the people around me. He helps me perceive the beauty of my surroundings, the overflowing wonderfulness of my family and our home and our community and this country – when my nature is dead-set on emphasizing the awfulness of everything.
In addition to clarifying the goodness in my life which any idiot could recognize but which remained opaque to me, God has at the same time given me perspective on the tragedies. I could not process the bad stuff people have done: God convinced me – again, while my guard was down – that I deserved every little bit of nastiness I suffered. I could not rationalize the horror of bad things happening to people I loved: God gave me the understanding that this was the way of all things. Everybody dies. Every mortal coil has a built-in breaking point. Knowing that has informed my perception of every human relationship in my life.
Not a whit of the above ruminations came from me. In fact, for most of my life, I have rebelled against all of those ideas. But despite my best efforts I am not able to maintain control of how I look at the world – I give up. And at that point, I am able to see another perspective. When my life situation has seemed hopeless, suddenly things were not so bad. When the sadness seemed about to become unmanageable, the viewpoint shifted.
God has intruded into my life in such significant ways over the years that I can’t describe my life accurately without reference to His influence. And it all begins with Christmas: God taking the first step.