December 13, 2011. Twelve days until Christmas. The celebration of the birth of Jesus. God becoming flesh. The incarnation.
It’s a season of smiles, but 5 a.m. is a hard time to get happy. Even for a morning person, it’s hard to wake up smiling when it’s darker than deep space. Winter is also a hard time to get happy. Your bones turn to ice, and it’s difficult to do anything besides climb under a blanket. It’s my wife’s favorite time of year, but it was hard to get into the spirit because of the exhaustion.
Married for six years, we brought home Lucy, a little girl from Ethiopia, just four months before. The adjustment to our 14-month-old daughter, the waning stages of Anna’s pregnancy, and the anticipation of an anytime-now boy took it out of us.
So why were we excited? Because this day would change the course of our family forever. At the end of this cold, early day, we would add another one.
In July there were two of us. After this December day, there would be four.
We had no idea what to expect. Anna had to be induced, and we were warned it might take a little while for our son, Rivers, to show up. We turned the TV on. I finished reading a book. Friends came over. Family started showing up. Things weren’t moving very quickly. I read some more.
We waited and waited. Most of the day, not much happened. Anna was a champ, but I could tell she was ready for things to get going.
Late at night, with an army of friends and family waiting, things started moving. We started on the 13th, and after 19 hours, two books, a few movies, and some breathing and pushing, Rivers was born—on December 14th.
Christmas is kind of a big deal, especially if you work at a church. But with the whirlwind our family had been through, it didn’t register. It was hard for me to even think about. Not because I’m heartless, but because I couldn’t process all the information that was happening. Too much. Too fast. My brain was seizing up like an engine without oil.
We were trying to adjust to our new reality, and the weight of it all made the holidays something to get through rather than something to savor.
I am part of a tradition that celebrates Christmas as a divine moment. We acknowledge a God who came down to us, who enveloped himself in the frailty of human flesh. The incarnation is the merging of humanity and divinity. Although I love the story of Mary and Joseph, barns and shepherds, shining stars and threatened rulers, there was always a disconnect for me. The mysticism of it all was something I revered but didn’t quite understand. I wasn’t sure I ever would, until Rivers was born.
After some sleep, we walked over to the nursery to see our son and hold him. He wrapped his entire hand around my pinky finger. He was squeezing with all his might, and although I felt it, the pressure was so gentle and soft it felt like an exhale. I couldn’t stop thinking about this story. God—the one who shaped planets and oceans, invented colors and smells—made himself a single-digit-pound baby boy. He created us in his own image, then created himself into our image.
Instead of asking us to work to get to him, he brought himself to us. He came to us.
This is the miracle of incarnation. This is why Christmas is sacred for a Christ follower. The strength of eternity wrapped in a less-than-ten-pound package. The word became flesh and dwelt among us.
That’s something worth celebrating.