When I was a child, Christmas felt magical to me. People were kinder, happier, and friendlier as they took time to greet one another and to stop and engage in conversations and wish each other, "Merry Christmas!" It also seemed magical because we had extended family visit and traditional holiday meals around elegantly decorated tables. I loved gazing at the Christmas tree lights as I sipped cocoa in front of a fireplace and loved listening to the garbled sounds of adults talking as I drifted off to sleep, thankful more of the people I loved were all under our roof.
When I began attending church, Christmas took on a more important meaning to me and the feeling of it being magical was replaced by a feeling of deep awe that continues to grow. I used to think the Christmas story began in the gospels. But, I have since come to understand the story didn't began with an angel visiting Mary or with angels singing to shepherds in the fields or the Shekinah Glory in the east--it began in the garden God had planted for the people into which He had breathed life. It began with something so sinister we don't like to include it in the story, but we must because without the bad we can't grasp the loving goodness of God and the significance of His pursuit of us and the Promise He made to us.
The story began with temptation which started with a slithering serpent and the sound of his smooth voice whispering lies and half truths to God's people. It began with Eve forgetting she were created to be God's image bearer. It began as she became dissatisfied for the very first time, believing the serpent's lies over God's truth. It began as she saw God's command not to eat as a deprivation rather than a protection. Her dissatisfaction grew as her desire for the God-forbidden fruit inflamed by the feeling of deprivation and grew into a belief that she deserved more. It began with a bite and then a sharing of her sin with her man--her ever so silent man standing by her side as she engaged in a conversation with a serpent. It began with the overwhelming shame that grew in their hearts as the reality of what they'd done sank in and in their futile attempts to cover it with clothes of leaves proved inadequate. It began with their hiding from the Creator when they heard His approach and for the first time had to call for them.
But there was no place big enough to hide the shame they felt from the God who knows all and yet, still relentlessly pursues those He loves. He met them where they were and He clothed them in animal skins that He, Himself, sacrificed--a sacrifice that was a physical picture of His loving Promise. The one He made in the aftermath of the ugly choices man had made. The promise was that the Promised One would one day take God's wrath for sin committed, would overcome the death they were dying, and would destroy the enemy seeking to destroy them.
Since that day in the Garden we, who were meant to behold God, fellowship with Him, and reflect His glory have been sinning and forsaking our Creator just as Adam and Eve did. As a result, we, too, are shrouded in debilitating shame and hiding from the Creator and each other. We may not hide behind leaves and bushes, but we hide behind masks that portray false selves better than we are. We hide behind shameful behavior like name calling, addictions, cursing, deception, abandonment, and abuse. We hide behind vows of not needing the love, approval, and acceptance of God or other people. But the masks, the shameful behavior, and the vows we make--they can't dissolve the shame that flourishes in hiding.
The solution of shame resides in persistently pursuing God who transforms shame with the blood of the Promised One. The Promised One being Jesus, His Son. The Promised One born shamefully to an unwed mother, lived in the shameful region of Nazareth, and shamefully walked with women, shamefully blessed children, shamefully touched lepers, shamefully cast out demons, shamefully forgave adulterers, shamefully supped with sinners, prostitutes, Samaritans, and tax collectors, shamefully confronted religious leaders who were shaming others. The Son fulfilled the Promise when He was shamefully sold for the price of a slave, was shamefully arrested, was shamefully insulted by the crowd calling for His death, shamefully flogged, shamefully face-slapped and beard plucked, shamefully stripped and crowned with earth-cursed thorns, shamefully nailed to a cross to die a criminal's death, shamefully faced His Father's wrath, and shamefully placed in a borrowed tomb.
We often fail to see, He chose to lay down His life, not just as a payment for sin, but because He despised the shame that's tendrils have been suffocating the life out of us. I wish we could understand He has never despised us; He has despised the shame with which we've been plagued since the fall. And as Diane Langberg so eloquently pointed out in her book, Suffering and the Heart of God, He did not let the shame people and His circumstance heaped upon Him define Him, diminish Him, or destroy His work and His purpose--He looked it fully in the face as His Father turned away so that He could transform our shame into glory.
As we remember the Babe born to a young virgin, laid in a manger, worshiped by shepherds, and visited by the Magi, may we never lose sight that the Promised One humbled Himself, taking on the form of man, being obedient to death, was the very One who defeated sin and death so we could behold Him and have our shame transformed into glory as it says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, "We all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory."
The Christmas Story without the backdrop of the Garden looses its ability to show the true story God has penned--a story that is both messy and beautiful-- messy because it includes our sin and shame and our failure to love and obey God and beautiful because it includes the loving God radically pursing fallen creatures, and a promise that was fulfilled in the Promised. The Christmas Story without the Garden fails to remind us of the glory of which our sin stripped us. The Christmas Story without the Garden fails to remind us that by faith in Christ we have been provided a way to enter His presence, which is the very place we need to be to have shame transformed into glory. Oh, that we would never forget that the Christmas Story is a Story of a God in pursuit!