So. How was your Christmas?
Mine was pretty much like the rest of this year – an absolute whirlwind of the loosely planned being usurped by the surprising. Though I learned the hard way that if you spend half the day holding small children and hefting a turkey in and out of the oven your arms will ache for atleast a week. Even brushing my hair is a challenge - sorry to anyone who has to be seen with me in public right now.
I must confess, I was not ready for Christmas this year. I don't understand how its come and gone already, I'm still waiting for summer. I was the most Grinch of all the Grinchs and so reflecting on the reason for the season was not forefront of my mind. But what I did realise is that Christmas is all about abiding - Jesus came to abide (live/dwell) with us, so that we could abide (live/dwell) with him.
The birth of Jesus was the beginning of the end of our separation from God. It changed everything. Jesus came to abide (live/dwell) as light in the darkness, offering us hope, peace and joy.
God was no longer as distant as before. But here. Present. With us. Immanuel.
And just a few short decades later the death and resurrection of Jesus would change it all again. Giving us access to a home we could fully abide (live/dwell) in together. Forever.
But it’s not just for the future, if nothing else, this absolute madness of a year has taught me that abiding is also for right here, right now. This very moment. Here. Present.
Everyday in China I asked God for the grace to make it through just that day. And the next day I asked the same. And the next day the same again. But I think what I didn't have the words to ask for was this:
O Lord. Life passes by swiftly. Events that a few years ago kept me totally preoccupied have now become vague memories; conflicts that a few months ago seemed so crucial in my life now seem futile and hardly worth the energy; inner turmoil that robbed me of sleep only a few weeks ago has now become a strange emotion of the past; books that filled me with amazement a few days ago now do not seem as important; thoughts that kept my mind captive only a few hours ago have now lost their power and have been replaced by others... Why am I continuously trapped in this sense of urgency and emergency? Why do I not see that you are eternal, that your kingdom lasts forever, and that for you a thousand years are like one day? O Lord, let me enter into your presence and there taste the eternal, timeless, everlasting love with which you invite me to let go of my time-bound anxieties, fears, occupations and worries.... Lord teach me your ways and give me the courage to follow them. Amen." Henri Nouwen
This is what abiding this year has looked like - an invitation to let go of my time-bound anxieties, fears, occupations and worries. To live fully loved, at peace, joyfully, on a foundation of trust.
Is this what I've been doing all year? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha (pauses to breathe and then resumes hysterical laughter) hahahahaha.
I had to go to China and back to figure this out, let me save you the journey and the planet the carbon emissions. Turns out sometimes abiding feels like a picnic in green pastures beside still waters.
But also, abiding can feel like being on a rollercoaster, holding on to the edge of your seat, both eagerly anticipating what’s next and dreading it, uncertain whether to laugh/cry/vomit/all three, wondering why you’ve put yourself in that position AGAIN and why no-one told you it was a bad idea, clinging for dear life/faith/sanity onto the knowledge that God is good and God is with you always even if it doesn’t feel like it, and praying it will all end soon so you can get off and return to life on terra firma.
Christmas, a solid reminder than wherever we find ourselves and whatever is going on God abides with us. Our choice is whether we abide with Him at the picnic, the rollercoaster or elsewhere.