And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:7
When our family goes somewhere we really like, I write about it. Today, we visited the Amicalola Deer Park in Dawsonville. A lovely place in the north Georgia mountains, not far from the state park and an easy drive from Atlanta.
Our visit was a district clergy event, so many families from the Atlanta Roswell area were there. The day included animal feeding and patting, a visit with Santa, his wife, elves and other family, plus lunch and a great deal of hospitality. It was wonderful to receive such a warm welcome and the staff bent over backward to be friendly and ensure we had a good time.
The only thing that didn’t cooperate was the temperature. Though it was a beautiful day, we stepped out of the car and found it to be a lot colder than we had expected. The kids had adequate coats, but no gloves. I thought wistfully of the scarf that I almost decided to wear. But we didn’t have much time to think about the cold. There were big, white bear-like dogs (Great Pyrenees?) expecting attention and keeping us entertained until we climbed aboard a Bobcat-pulled trailer that took us to even more critters.
Soon, we were offering corn by hand to an unusual variety of species. Sometimes we had to reach through a protective fence, sometime not. Our kids didn’t warm to the activity immediately. These were some pretty strange characters. Behind the fence were deer, emu, and pigs. Wandering the world freely alongside us were llama and goats. All of them could be fed by hand, but their noses were dirty from foraging the ground which made their breakfast a messy undertaking. Gradually, however, the kids got used to our new relationship with members of the natural world. And we got used to what they were and weren’t willing to do. By the time we tossed corn to reindeer from the “sleigh,” everyone was happy.
Faith is a lifetime of getting “used to.” Becoming accustomed to things we don’t expect or prefer. This message is shouted through the Christmas story. Jesus was the savior like no one expected; humble, from a poor family in a poor town with more than a hint of scandal surrounding his birth. While I love the sweet nostalgia of our traditional celebrations of the Christmas story, we must make ourselves accustomed to the grittiness of the actual details. While we sing songs of little towns and starry nights, we also remember that those nights were cold and the towns dusty. And the two – who became three – in the chilly stable were not strangers to sadness and hardship.
Our Christian lives today are also a balance. We take the joy and personal peace gained from faith in Jesus Christ the risen savior, but get used to the reality that these things are absent in much of our world. We are comforted by the presence of God, but called to be in the uncomfortable presence of people disconcertingly different from ourselves. We celebrate the knowledge that “He’s got the Whole World in his Hands,” but we acknowledge that the needs of the world are often handed right back to us and we may not be able to meet them without significant personal sacrifice. We might get our hands literally dirty or have to contend with some pretty strange characters.
This isn’t going to change. We may as well breathe deeply and get used to it. All of the coarseness and dirt is the reality of our world. If we try to avoid it we will live partial lives, disconnected from the creation that belongs to God. Me, I’ll take the grime, as long as it arrives part and parcel with the gift of life in abundance.
The recipe below is a repeat, but suitable for the day.
Reindeer CookiesPeanut Butter Cookie recipe small pretzel twists
M&M’s red gumdrops
Divide cookies out as directed but shape into a soft triangle shape. Place pretzel twist at top on two corners for antlers. Place a gumdrop on other corner for nose, and two M&M’s on cookie for eyes. Bake as directed. (You can also use red peanut M&M’s for the nose.) – Laura Taylor