Friday, December 14, 2012

My Grown Up Christmas List (The Redemption of Christmas)

On September 11th, 2001, I was a 7-year-old second grader. I was a pretty naive little kid with a big imagination, whose mind mainly lived in a universe of Legos and Star Wars. My perception of the world was pretty small. I didn't think there were people who did unspeakably evil things. I didn't think innocent people died from the acts of those people, or that people died from other horrible things like cancer or car accidents. I grew up in what to me seemed like an environment where everybody got along for the most part, so I also didn't fully grasp concepts like bitter disagreement, war, segregation, genocide, etc.

Admittedly, those are concepts few 7-year-olds grasp. But not only did I not grasp most of these ideas, but I wasn't even aware they existed. So when my parents tried to softly explain to me that evening at dinner what had happened, I didn't really get it. I didn't know what the World Trade Center was. I didn't understand Terrorism. I didn't understand why somebody would want to crash a plane into a skyscraper to make an attack or a statement against someone else.

Oh, to have such an innocent, pure view of the world.

To this day, I still don't "understand" why somebody would kill or show bitter aggression against any other human being. But the unfortunate side affect of seeing tragedies like 9/11, the Virginia Tech massacre, or the Aurora CO massacre this summer (to name a few) unfold is that you become calloused. Your shock and sadness at the events never numbs, but your initial reaction to them and your processing of them does.

This morning, I got in the car with my mom and drove over to the elementary school where my little brother and sister attend school. My mom let me drive over, which makes me feel that much "older" and more "mature." I went and spent two hours in my little sisters classroom for kids with special needs, getting to play with and learn from this amazing group of kids. While there were definitely high points and lower points, I ultimately walked out with a sense of fulfilment and happiness. It was a nice morning. I also got to quickly slip into my little brother's kindergarten class to say hello and see how he was doing, which was an added bonus.

At the same time that I drove over to an elementary school to share my time with a special group of kids, a man in Newtown Connecticut drove to an elementary school with far different intentions. He had just killed his mother. After he did what he was about to do, his life would end too. But before that, this man's violent actions would claim the lives of 27 people, 20 of whom were between five and ten years old. The damage this man has done to the people of Newtown Connecticut and people around the world who will hear of his horrific actions is incalculable. Words cannot describe neither the evil he has committed, nor the pain he has caused his fellow human beings.

There was a time when I was younger where this time of year was magical for me. It was full of snow days, hot coco, Christmas movies, Christmas cookies, and lots of decorations. I would go through the latest Lego magazines, circling all the models that I hoped Santa would bring. There's something about a child's wonder at Christmas that forever ingrains in you this thirst for that time of year, full of anticipation and goodness.

Yet how it changes as we grow older. Christmas is coming in less than two weeks. This month has been chaotic with so many great things going on, and January will be no different. I've hardly had time to sit down with a cup of Cocoa and watch my favorite old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials. For all the insanity and distractions of everyday adult life though, the week or so of time from Christmas to New Year's stands as a block of peace. A time to brush all the work aside, enjoy family and recharge before a new year begins. I can't help but think of the families that will have one less child poking their head out their bedroom door in the wee hours of the morning, eagerly anticipating the gifts that wait under the tree. Their parents have probably bought them gifts and taken the time off from work to get to enjoy their holiday season with their little ones. They've probably loaded up on Christmas treats, and maybe baked a cookie or two.

Now, all thanks to one man's savage actions, those dreams of Christmas have been demolished in one fell swoop. In stead of spending Christmas in total bliss, there will be the gaping hole that child has left. They will wonder how long the grief will sting, raw and crippling as it undoubtedly must be.

My "Christmas List" is no longer filled with the most recent lego starfighters and other toys that it once was. Yes, there are still gadgets and Christmas Magazine ads that catch my eye- there's always some part of us that's attracted to the material things of this world. For the most part though, my Christmas list is the changes I wish I could see in the world. That no child, for any reason, would feel rejected or lonely, without friends or family to warm their hearts on Christmas Day. That even though there will always be people who disagree with each other and don't see eye to eye, that we could do so in a loving way, with understanding and compassion. That people never become so embittered, so calloused, so twisted, that we kill other innocent human beings simply to make a statement or vent our anger. That those who suffer with grief know that life will get better, that redemption is on the way.

It is with great thankfulness to God that I realize that even for those families where Christmas will be raw because of a loved one recently gone, it is  because of the presence of another little child that we can still have hope. Jesus' coming to earth and the celebration thereof isn't there to create a shopping occasion, or even to act as a time for makeshift family reunions. It's there to remind us that redemption is always present, even in the most unusual forms and places. After all, if you were to know Redemption was coming in the form of a little baby tomorrow, would you, without any knowledge of the Nativity, look for a baby wrapped in some blankets, sleeping in a trough in a cave turned into a stable? Would you expect the first people to be told of his birth to be some smelly shepherds camping out in the fields with their flocks?

Christmas this year will, undoubtedly, be marked in some way for many of us with the memory that many are celebrating it in the midst of deep grief and sorrow. The good news, though, is that on a deep, dark night in Bethlehem, a night that was just as dark as all those before it, the arrival of a little baby brought a bright star that lit up the darkness and marked redemption was coming.