My fiancé just moved in to what will be our first apartment. I spent the other evening over there building bookshelves and unpacking after which I carried inordinate amounts of cardboard boxes out to the dumpsters. With over a foot of snow on the ground, I wasn’t quite sure which dumpster was for recycling cardboard and my inclinations pointed to the one to which there was no pathway cleared. So I just threw the boxes in the first dumpers I could reach. It was late, I was cold and snow was slipping down my shoes as it was. It wasn’t worth the trouble.
In three days we’ll fly back to Wisconsin to spend the holidays with my future in-laws. I’m not sure I’ve caught my breath from finals, let alone had a chance to wrap presents, pay bills and dive into final wedding planning. I can’t believe December twenty-fifth is just around the corner. Dear Lord, couldn’t Mary wait a little longer? What’s the rush?
I don’t recall Christmas season going by so quickly when I was a child. All I can remember is anticipation, passing the time with snowflake dreams, counting down the days using the advent calendar that hung on the back of our basement door. When Christmas Eve came we went to church as a family, sang carols, left cookies for Da-er, Santa, and crawled into bed with a stack of books to keep us company for the morning hours when we’d inevitably awaken and be too excited to sleep. Every moment of this was worth saving. Now I can’t even remember what day it is and I throw out my cardboard boxes without another thought. For all I know Baby Jesus went with the bathwater; I’ve been too preoccupied to notice.
I’m reminded of an essay by David James Duncan in which he reflects on the Christmas song “Little Drummer Boy” and the comical scene it depicts. Here’s Mary who’s just taken a long trip via donkey only to learn that there’s no room for her in an inn, “but hey, you can bunk up with our cow, Betsy! We’ll even give you the discounted rate!”. She’s given birth, she’s exhausted, the baby is finally sleeping and all seems calm and settled when in waddles a boy with a snare drum who is just so eager to worship the Lord Jesus that he can’t wait and starts beating the hell out of the thing in pure awe, right there in the middle of the night.
So I enter the manger scene of Christmas-time banging my own drum of worship as I know best. “Finals! Family! Travel! Wedding plans!” Goes the drum. Bang! Bang! Bang! I could hardly blame Mary for praying “Please, Lord, put that ass I rode to Bethlehem to some use and send just one good kick. One swift kick straight to ‘is head. He’s going to wake up your son!”
Inasmuch I suppose the message of the season isn’t so much that the world Christ entered was worth saving but that he decided it was. “Here’s all the kingdoms of all the other worlds,” Satan told him, “I’ll give them to you in exchange for this raggedy, decrepit place called ‘earth’, where people don’t give a rat’s ass and throw their cardboard in the wrong dumpster just because they’re selfish and lazy, where they wander into your manger screaming about finals, finances and wedding plans when they haven’t even bothered to provide you with a decent place to be born. I’ll give you paradise for this, how’s that for a trade?”
But Jesus didn’t take the trade; he didn’t bow. He took the option of the manger and the cross, even if the world he came to save really wasn’t worth saving at all. Even if the best we could offer him was, in some form or another, a drummer boy, standing beside his manger and startling the daylights out of everyone.
The poet Czeslaw Milosz wrote that Jesus endured all the torture of the cross, the racket and discomfort of the manger “so that the world could show its indifference”. Walking in from the dumpsters I felt a tinge of guilt for my indifference, of nostalgia for Christmases past, the brokenness of it all.
Glancing up, my eyes went past a Christmas tree in a window and to a full moon, smiling upon the entire world like I suppose a star over the manger must’ve done some 2,000 years ago. And for that moment, I felt like a drummer boy who sullenly placed his drumsticks aside even though they came with my best intentions. And I looked around the manger at our miserable, busy, stressed-out world into which he’d been born. Then I prayed a prayer while looking into my baby Savior’s eyes:
“Thank you for not being indifferent. Thank you for Christmas.”