By Jen Noricks (worship director)
Most of my Christmas Eve memories are a blur. One year runs into the next, with hazy impressions of candlelight services and dinners consisting of charcuterie and Christmas cookies. I do remember December 24, 2000, though. Vividly.
It was a Sunday. I spent the afternoon on my couch, dozing in sweatpants and watching “Trapped in Paradise,” a movie that will never make anyone’s list of Top 10 Christmas flicks. I was planning to spend the evening with my boyfriend and his family. The exact time of this gathering was unclear, so when he came to pick me up, I was still in sweatpants, cleaning out my refrigerator. He – normally an easygoing, relaxed guy – perched on the edge of my couch, leaning forward with hands clasped, looking like a jumpy cat. I thought he was annoyed by my leisurely pace, so I picked it up, cleared away the science experiments in the fridge and located socially acceptable pants.
Once we were on the road, he suggested that we go to a neighboring town and look at Christmas decorations in the park. We parked by the town square and strolled hand-in-hand between rows of festive-looking trees. If he’s so eager to get to the party, I thought, then why are we stopping here? When we stood in the middle of the park, surrounded by twinkling lights, and he took a small, velvet box out of his pocket, I understood.
The engagement ring he gave to me wasn’t only a symbol of his commitment; it was also the evidence of his love. In the months leading up to Christmas, he had been working a lot of voluntary overtime, spending long weekends on his feet, hauling cumbersome products to and from trade shows. I didn’t know then that he was saving money for an engagement ring. He chose to sacrifice his time and energy so that I could have the privilege of wearing his ring, of becoming his family, of building a life together. I’ve been wearing that ring for 18 years now. When I take the time to really look at it, I am still moved by his sacrificial, loving gesture.
Sacrificial love is the driving force in the story of Christmas, where we see Jesus choosing to reveal himself to humanity. The apostle Paul writes, “Jesus was equal with God. But Jesus didn’t take advantage of that fact. Instead, …he was made just like human beings. He appeared as a man.” (Philippians 2:6-8)
Not only did he become human, but the Gospel of John says he “dwelled among us,” he “made his home with us,” he “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14; KJV, NIRV, MSG). The original Greek word for this is dwelling is skéné, which refers to a tent or tabernacle. John’s original readers, who were Jewish, would have caught the reference to the skéné, or tabernacle, where Moses and their ancestors met with God.
During their forty years of wandering in the desert, Moses and the Jewish people had followed God’s directives to make a portable tabernacle for worship. It was the tent where they met with the Divine. They also had specific instructions on how to set up their camp. The tent/tabernacle was always in the center. Theirs was a nomadic life of hard work, struggles with the elements, perpetually on the brink of devastation. Yet, there was God, in their midst, dwelling in the center, faithful even in their faithlessness.
Centuries later, Jesus – both human and Divine – was born. Once again, he pitched his skéné in the neighborhood. Amid the suffering, struggles, and failures of our lives, Spirit dwells, speaking inner peace “which exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4:7). I know this is true because I have experienced this type of peace. Yet, this year, I am nearly undone with sadness.
Immigrants and refugees seeking asylum are being detained and abused at our borders. Homelessness, poverty, hunger, violence, and prejudice are realities for people in my community. My spirit cries out, Where is justice? Where is compassion? Where is love?
Sacrificial love is the driving force of Christmas.
Yes, the Divine moves into neighborhoods, camps in tent cities, and speaks peace. But often, the Divine moves and speaks through you and through me. This week, consider practical ways that you can help someone else. Then do it.
Sacrificial love. May you receive it anew this Christmas season. And may you generously give it to others.