I received a Christmas card with a photograph of a large crucifix from my godfather several years ago, and it perplexed me but also beckoned me to pause for a moment. In the midst of cheerful greetings, messages of joy and hope, and images of the Christ-child, this particular Christmas card profoundly stood out. Normally I don’t ponder Jesus’ Passion during Advent and the Christmas season, so I mused as to the purpose of such a Christmas card.
Shouldn’t we be celebrating the joyful tidings of the season like everyone else does? Shouldn’t we be basking in God’s love and mercy, lauding Him with hymns of praise? As my father peered behind my shoulder to glance at the outlier Christmas card, he commented, “Well, that is an appropriate Christmas card. After all, Jesus was born so that He would die on the Cross for our salvation.”
It was stated so matter-of-factly from my sagacious father – a man of few words, a man of simplicity – and yet I always listened intently when he spoke, because he made his words count. And they always, always struck me deeply with their clarity in conveying truth. So I nodded in agreement and filed the card away with the rest.
Often times a fleeting moment that most people quickly disregard will linger with me, settle in my soul and remain in the recesses of my cognition for days, weeks. Externally, I appear as if my life simply forges ahead without a second thought, and yet something deep within me stirs. The Holy Spirit rouses me to a newfound knowledge, a spiritual truth that I cannot ignore. This was one of such occasions for me; the seconds it took for me to gaze at that Christmas card and hear my father’s words somehow transformed my interior life forever.
The words from Christmas to Calvary occurred to me as Advent approached this year, and I recalled that memory from years past. Inwardly, I chuckled to myself as I realized the profundity of those words. Truly, Advent is a time of preparation, but not just for Jesus’ birth and His second coming; it is a time to prepare ourselves for encountering His Love on the Cross, an ever-present mystery that shrouds us and mystifies our natural states of being.
This morning my preschooler, Felicity, wanted me to read her a story. This was not unusual, except she selected two Easter books from her bookshelf when she was immersed in about two dozen Christmas books that we had exhumed from the basement as we decorated for Advent and Christmas. Every year, these books appear as new to her, and I delight in the wonder that glimmers in her eyes as we present them to her. So it was peculiar to me that she would desire not to revisit the newfound Christmas books, but rather peruse the Easter story, something she rarely – even during Lent and the Easter season – asks me to share with her.
It all seemed fitting into this phrase, from Christmas to Calvary. As I read her the books, and explained to her about Jesus’ death to save us from our sins, she absorbed everything with the pure love of a child. Afterward, she asked if we could go outside and look at the crèche in our front yard that displayed Our Lady (“Mama Mary” according to our girls) and St. Joseph.
“Where’s baby Jesus?” she asked with disappointment.
“We have to wait until Christmas Day to put Him in the manger. See, Mama Mary and St. Joseph are watching and waiting just like we are for Jesus to arrive,” I responded.
Felicity nodded knowingly and then spontaneously knelt in front of the empty manger. She bowed her head and folded her hands as I watched, stupefied. After she offered her silent prayer, she promptly got up, embraced the lifeless statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph with warmth and beamed as she caught my stare.
“I’m happy, Mama. I just told Mama Mary that I am happy. Now I am going to tell Baby Jesus and give Him a hug, too.”
She bounded towards our front porch, where my husband had diligently tucked Baby Jesus in a small corner, yet Felicity knew exactly where to find Him. She didn’t seem to require the same amount of time that adults need to find what we’re seeking.
I sat with that thought for a moment as tears welled in my eyes. Felicity sought the Christ-child and didn’t take long to find Him. “I sought Him whom my heart loves. I sought Him and when I found Him, did not let Him go.” We, as adults, can’t seem to remember where we put our car keys, let alone how to truly discover the hidden places where the Lord dwells – in a quiet corner, in the Tabernacles of the world, in a stranger’s smile or the tears of a mother.
You see, Christmas leads us necessarily to Calvary. We cannot have one without the other; we cannot fully comprehend the birth of Jesus without embracing His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, as well. We cannot rejoice without knowing that Jesus was born in order to save us from our sins, and this acknowledgment requires a somber reminder that He had to die in order that we might live. We cannot deny this fact or ignore it. We cannot run from it or gloss over it. The truth is, the mystery of the Cross is where we discover the answers to all of life’s questions: what Love truly means and Who Love truly is, how we can surrender our lives as an offering of a total gift of self, and how we find meaning in our suffering and pain.
The gift of the manger is the gift of the Cross. And our gift to Baby Jesus this Christmas can be as simple as a hug or as intentional and powerful as conversion or reversion. Any offering we place in the manger involves the sacrificial love that encompasses the Cross.
“We lost ourselves at one tree. And only find ourselves at another.” ~Ann Voskamp
May we journey with Jesus from Christmas to Calvary.
Copyright 2014 Jeannie Ewing