I drove for three hours straight on Saturday, which probably isn’t a big deal for you, but it was a small victory for me. I say small victory because I tense up a bit when driving over 65 mph on a two-lane highway, so after a while I get cramps in my shoulders. Plus, car butt is an even greater reality from the front seat when you have to keep a foot near the gas pedal. It’s something about not allowing myself to stretch for three hours.
I know; this is whiney. I promise there’s a point to all this.
I decided while I was driving through the snowy, barren tree-lined highway of Wisconsin that I like road trips. Maybe I need to add a qualifier to that: I like road trips post-finals. I let my mind wander – not too far, mind you. I’m a good, mindful driver – all over the trees and the road and the snow and the other cars and passengers and the destination and the journey. It only went to my to-do list for a few minutes, in between thoughts about existence and Christmas and journeys.
I’ve written before that I’m a fast walker. I walk for the destination, not to pass the time. While that’s definitely true in winter, when the wind is threatening to remove my outer layer of skin, I’m learning to love the journey. I’m learning that driving in Wisconsin – where there isn’t any cell reception and you can’t stay on a radio station for long because you get out of range in fifteen minutes – promotes curiosity.
You know how a train of thought goes: you start by seeing a farmhouse, then you wonder who lives there and why they’d build a farm so close to a highway, then you wonder if maybe the highway came after they built the farm. Actually the farm was there for hundreds of years (not those buildings you see now, of course), when the city built the highway running through their neighbors’ land (who had to sell so they could move their ailing great-grandma nearer to a hospital). It’s affected how their cheese tastes (because it’s a dairy farm, duh), and now they’re struggling to make ends meet. Or maybe they’re not dairy farmers. They just raise cattle and try to ignore all the cars. Or maybe they like the cars. They put out signs by the highway and sell lots of jelly in the summers and meet all sorts of interesting people.
Then you think about how Jesus was probably born in a barn like that one you’re passing by now. You wonder how Mary endured it. Poor girl: no epidural, no clean sheets, no nice nurse to tell her that it’s going to be okay – just keep pushing. Really, all the conditions were about as bad as they could be. Jesus was born at exactly the right time to exactly the right people, right under the star that would eventually lead the wise men to him, but it doesn’t seem optimal, does it? For one thing, what can a baby do for a people who’ve been oppressed by the Romans for so long? Didn’t they need a strong political leader or a military man?
But then Jesus grows in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, and He eats with sinners and heals the diseased. He calls the pious, oppressive religious leaders of the day snakes and washes His disciples’ feet. He tells people to go and sin no more, provides good wine for a wedding, and loves people who were quite certain that they were unlovable. He shows us how we are to live, what a life in close communion with God looks like, and how to bring the kingdom of God to earth.
It seems like enough. It seems like Jesus could have just done that, but we know that God didn’t just put on skin to change the way the world works and to show us how to live. He put on skin and plopped Himself in a manger so that one day He could die and come back to life to repair the broken relationship that we had with Him. He said, I want to be close to you. So close that I’ll do something that no other god has even thought of. I’ll put on flesh. I’ll lower myself to the point of serving those I created. I’ll lower myself even further, to the grave.
But then, three days after I’m dead, when you think all hope is lost, I’ll come back to life to show that I can restore anything. I can fix what is broken and be in communion with my people.
That’s the hope of Christmas, that Jesus came to us, in the lowliest way possible so that He could redeem and be in relationship with those he created – all of them.
I’m going to stand in awe of that this Christmas, to rejoice that my Savior didn’t ask me to complete a list of tasks or play a spiritual game of chutes and ladders to get to Him. Instead, He came to me.