Two years ago the acapella group Pentatonix released their first Christmas album. Last year I pretty much played Mary Did You Know on repeat for the entire month of December. If you haven’t heard their Christmas songs, get out from under your rock and YouTube it. Their rendition of Little Drummer Boy is the only rendition of Little Dummer Boy I don’t hate. This year their big Christmas song was Hallelujah. It’s a beautiful song and they sing it beautifully – each member gets to showcase their voice. The line that always sticks out to me is sung by Mitch, who has a voice like a dang angel. He sings, Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.
If that’s not a 2016 truth I don’t know what is. It feels like, in many ways, this year was a big loss. The election, the freaking cancer, DAPL, the hate, the fear… everything I don’t even know about because I get my news from social media. I’m thinking specifically, with Pentatonix’s voices ringing in my ears, of friends of mine who are spending their first Christmas without their moms. It’s terrifying and infuriating and heart wrenching to attend a funeral for your friend’s mom.
I have not lost anyone close to me, not really close to me. I do remember when my Aunt Rhonda taught me how to ride a bike. She pushed me to just go for it, even though I was afraid I was going to fall down. And I did fall down, but maybe that was the first time I did something scared and for that I am grateful. I also remember when she burned my forehead curling my bangs for picture day, but nobody’s perfect. I have those memories, but her daughters and her parents and her new grandbaby have countless more memories, traditions that once brought joy and life will now be tinged with a hollow emptiness. A coldness and a brokenness.
When I shared in Bible Study about one of these women I knew who had died from freaking cancer one of the wise women God gave me this year said something like, “But God still won.”
Cancer doesn’t feel like a win. Death doesn’t feel like a win. Trump does not feel like a win. But at the end of the day and at the end of the year we can still sing Hallelujah, even if it’s cold and broken, especially when it’s cold and broken, because love IS a victory march. Love DOES always win. Even when it doesn’t feel like it. Because God is still the boss! Because we’re still here with jobs to do! Because Aunt Rhonda and Mrs. Maxam get to celebrate Christmas today WITH THE BABY. They’re there! They’re whole and healed and beautiful.
“There are years when the Christmas spirit is hard to come by,
and it’s in those seasons when I’m so thankful for Advent.
Consider it a less flashy but still very beautiful way of being present
to this season. Give up for a while your false and failing attempts
at merriment, and thank God for thin places, and for Advent,
for a season that understands longing and loneliness and long nights.
Let yourself fall open to Advent, to anticipation, to the belief
that what is empty will be filled, what is broken will be repaired,
and what is lost can always be found,
no matter how many times it’s been lost.”
– Shauna Niequist
My Christmas this year has been stripped down. Last night my Christmas Eve dinner was a salad with guacamole Ranch (a guest left a head of lettuce at the hostel and I splurged on the Ranch) and cheese and crackers. I had planned on making my family’s traditional Christmas cookies by myself but my oven wouldn’t light so instead I cried on the kitchen floor. Instead of three or four weeks off like I’ve had for the past four years I got two and a half days. I played Sherfey solitaire and solitary Scrabble while watching Modern Family. There are no gifts under my tree. I didn’t even get anything for the dogs! I wrapped nothing.
I’m not complaining. I’m not looking for sympathy. Friends invited me over, made their homes available, but at this point in my hectic life two and a half days at home reading, watching Christmas movies, and eating mostly free salad is honestly my dream. My point is that my Christmas this year doesn’t look much like any of my past Christmases.
Which means I can’t get caught up with presents and get togethers and games and big dinners. It’s just me and God here (and the dogs and Pentatonix) and with everything else stripped away I can see so clearly the one and only important thing. I can feel the truth of what we are celebrating sink way down into my weary, cold, and broken soul.
Remember when God decided to send Himself to our cold and broken world? And remember when he chose a teenager to be His mom? An unwed teenager?! Somehow this insane reality has snuck past me all this years until Glennon Doyle Melton pointed it out. An intense love has been growing in my heart for a few years now for young, single mothers. They are so strong. They work so hard. And that was Mary! A young, single mother. I even went back and fact checked. Even when she gave birth, Mary was still Joseph’s “betrothed,” not yet his wife.
Can you imagine what conservative churches would have to stay nowadays about an unwed teenager giving birth to our Holy God? Mm. But God doesn’t consult us on His plans. He just assigns us our jobs and we can step up to the plate or not. But our preferences don’t get in the way of His plans. Hallelujah.
My favorite story in the Bible is the story of Hosea and Gomer. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute (another little story I’m sure would’ve gotten some Facebook status heat were it to go down in 2016 – a prophet/church leader marrying a prostitute?!) and then after a few years and a couple kids Gomer leaves her husband to go back to her prostituting ways. Except the mighty have fallen and even though Gomer was once a big shot in the temple sex trade she is now old news. She finds herself being auctioned off to the highest bidder.
I’ve always been able to picture this so clearly (but never without tears coming to my eyes). A back alley. It’s dark. There are men pushing and shouting and waving money in the air. Three or four naked women stand up on a makeshift platform. Maybe they’re cowering, hanging their heads, ashamed. Maybe one or two muster all of their courage to hold their head high in an attempt to show their abusers that they haven’t broken them. But their chins quiver. Gomer probably thinking about nothing but her mistakes, about how badly she screwed up. How she should’ve stayed at home where at least she had a couple outfits, not to mention a husband who loved her.
Gomer, standing there in her shame and nakedness, thinking about what a screw up she is.
But then! From the back, comes a man pushing his way through the crowd. He makes his way to the front, causing kind of a commotion, and he looks Gomer right in the eyes. She is so shocked to see him there her mouth falls open. He tells the auctioneer, never taking his eyes off of his bride, “I want her.” And then he pays something crazy like a month’s wages for this cold and broken whore.
He pursued her. He chased her down. And he bought her back. Even after she left him!
It’s exactly what God did when He came to earth in the arms of an unwed teenager mother. He pursued us. He chased us down. And then thirty-odd years later, He bought us back.
My Hallelujah this year may be cold and broken, but I will never stop singing. He continues to pursue me, to chase me down, to look me straight in the eye even as I stand in my shame and nakedness, knowing I’m a screw up. He continues to buy me back every single day. Today I celebrate the day that His plan for me was set in motion. I am humbled in front of my King. Hallelujah.