When I was a child, Christmas felt magical to me because people seemed to be friendlier and kinder to each other during the Christmas season. When they passed each other in the store or saw each other at church, they took time out of busy schedules to greet one another and to engage in conversations. And, wen they parted they wished each other, "Merry Christmas!" It also seemed magical because we had extended family who visited and had traditional holiday meals laid out on elegantly decorated tables. I remember the peace of gazing at the Christmas tree lights as I sipped cocoa in front of a fireplace and the joy of listening to the garbled sounds of adults talking as I drifted off to sleep, thankful more of the people I loved were 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 continued to grow year after year. 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 of Eden--a garden God had planted for the people He created and breathed life into. It began with something so sinister we don't like to include it in our sanitized versions of the Christmas story. But, we must. For without the bad we can't grasp the depth of the the good and of the loving kindness of our God. Nor, can we grasp the significance of His pursuit of us and the Promised One He has given.
The story began on a warm perfect day with temptation laid out by a slithering serpent and the sound of his smooth voice hissing lies and half truths to God's people. It continued with Eve forgetting she were created to be God's image bearer became dissatisfied with her life for the very first time. It continued as she began to see God's command not to eat one particular fruit as a deprivation rather than the protection it was. Her dissatisfaction grew as her desire for the God-forbidden fruit became inflamed by the feeling of deprivation and grew into a belief that she deserved more. It continued when she eyed the fruit and reached for it and smelled its sweetness and took a bite, It continued as she shared of her sin with her man who was ever so silently standing by her side as she engaged in the conversation with a hissing serpent. It continued with the overwhelming shame that grew in their hearts as the reality of what they had done sank in. It continued when their futile attempts to cover their shame with clothes of fig leaves that proved inadequate. It continued with their hiding from the Creator when they heard Him approaching. It continued when for the first time ever He had to call for them.
But there was no place big enough to hide them and their shame from the God who is omniscient. Little did they understand that God loved big enough to relentlessly pursue them even in the aftermath of what they had done. He met them where they were at and He clothed them in animal skins that He, Himself, sacrificed--a sacrifice that was a physical picture of His loving Promise of One who would one day take God's wrath for sin committed, who would overcome the death they were dying, and who would destroy the enemy seeking to destroy them.
Since that dark day in the Garden, we who were meant to behold God and fellowship with Him and reflect His glory have been sinning and forsaking the Creator just as Adam and Eve did. As a result, we, too, are shrouded in debilitating shame and hiding from the Creator and from each other. We may not hide behind leaves and bushes, but we hide behind masks that attempt to portray false selves that are way better than we really 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 our God or other people. But the masks, the shameful behavior, and the vows we make--they don't dissolve shame that flourishes in hiding.
The solution of shame resides in our persistently pursuing God who transform shame with the blood of the Promised One. The Promised One being Jesus who was born shamefully to an unwed mother, who lived in the shameful region of Nazareth, who shamefully walked with women, who shamefully blessed children, who shamefully touched lepers, who shamefully cast out demons, who shamefully forgave adulterers, and who shamefully dined with sinners, prostitutes, Samaritans, and tax collectors. 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 ever since Eden. I wish we could understand that He has never despised us; He has despised the shame with which we've been plagued since the fall. 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 Baby 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 our loving God radically pursing fallen creatures, and a promise that was fulfilled in the Promised One. 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.