This time of year is probably my favorite. Of course I’m a sucker for summer—those endless warm days, fresh fruit, sun tans and swimsuits, the joy of being outside. But these days are wonderful in their own special way.
Last week I went downtown Chicago with a dear friend because I needed out of my neighborhood and because I desperately wanted to pretend like I was a tourist gawking at the lights and impossibly tall Christmas trees.
So we bundled up in warm coats and hats and walked on Michigan Avenue—turning our heads back and forth, looking at the lights. We ventured up to the top floor in Macy’s and marveled at the coziness of Christmas while our fingers warmed up. He showed me his favorite place downtown—a small, quiet park surrounded by tall buildings. Covid took away our plans of exploring Lincoln Park Zoo’s Zoolights, but we’re all use to this kind of thing by now, right?
This year has been weird and wild and unexpected. Our plans changed, our thoughts about the future filled with question marks. So many things have been different—holidays, graduations, weddings, work, school, everything. It’s been a year of upheaval and uncertainty, and I think we’re all pretty tired.
And I think that’s why I needed to go downtown Chicago. My friends who hate the city won’t understand, but I needed something beautiful and special and somewhat normal—a night filled with city lights and sounds and the joy that fills the air at Christmas time. My heart craved a distraction from a world that has been anything but familiar since March. All of this—these emotions, thoughts, and deep-heart desires—is why my mind continually repeats one particular word this Christmas season: Emmanuel, God with us.
Most of my friends and neighbors in Chicago are Muslim, and they are quick to tell me they too believe in Jesus—Nabi Isa they call him. They believe he is a prophet. He is nothing more than a good man whom God spoke through. He was not God, and he never died. And although my friends believe he will come back again, they don’t believe that this Jesus is the one who can save them, who loves them, who created them, who died for them.
He is just another man, another prophet.
But Christmas is so much more than lights and trees and decorations and traditions with people I love. I find the beauty of Christmas in the sacredness of this word—Emmanuel. God with us. That’s what Christmas is about—Jesus’ birth. And it’s a Jesus who was more than a good man or prophet or man of God. It’s the story of a God whose love runs so deep that He took on the vulnerability of humanness. He took on flesh and bones and breathed in and out of his lungs. He moved into the neighborhood to be close to us, to help us glimpse God the Father, to show us the most profound grace and forgiveness through His sacrifice.
It’s the story of Jesus.
God with us.
I think for lots of us, our hearts crave something normal this year. We crave something familiar, something that can happen without a list of restrictions or questions. We crave something beautiful, something lasting, something sacred.
Like friendship and family and love. Like God among us—interrupting our ordinary with His incomprehensible, extravagant love.
So may we take time in this weird and wild year to celebrate Christmas with little joys, like bright lights and beautiful Christmas trees. May we celebrate with the people we love—the family and friends who have carried us through 2020. But more than all of that, may we celebrate the moment sacred invaded our messy, broken world.
The birth of Jesus.
God with us.