When we were kids, I would sometimes sneak into my brother’s room early on Christmas morning, before we were officially allowed to get up, and we would whisper in the dark all of our theories about what Santa had or hadn’t brought. I don’t think we ever waited quite as long as we were supposed to before I excitedly volunteered to tiptoe to the other end of the house to wake our parents.
I had to walk through the living room to get there, right where all of our unwrapped toys from Santa were laid out so carefully. It was the one night of the Christmas season when my mom would leave the tree lights on all night long, so our treasures were dimly lit by the flashes of color that blinked silently from the tree. I was always careful to hide my eyes as I walked past my presents. I was so excited to see my gifts that I almost didn’t want the moment to arrive yet. I felt sure that Santa had brought me exactly what I wanted, and I desperately wanted to touch and feel and experience all of the wonders that Christmas morning brought. But, instead of running straight for the goodies that Santa had dropped off, I ran straight past them and into my parents’ room. It was almost as if the anticipation of the gifts meant more to me than the gifts themselves.
It’s Christmas! I announced, in case the grown ups had forgotten the significance of this particular morning. Then, as they began to show signs of life, I would head back to the living room, where my brother had already turned on the lights and was quietly surveying the Santa situation. This is when my shouting and exclaiming and jumping up and down would begin as I realized that, of course, Santa had delivered everything that my heart desired.
What I didn’t learn until years later was that on those dark, early mornings when my brother and I whispered together, speculating about what would be awaiting us in the living room, my brother already knew. On most Christmases, he got up long before I stirred and walked straight into the living room and looked over his Christmas. Then, in an amazing showing of some kind of incredible fortitude that I never possessed, he went back to bed, satisfied by his secret knowledge, and content to wait for the rest of the family to wake up.
Christmas made me loud and chatty and self-focused. He always just seemed completely calm, with a wide grin on his face, quietly taking in the greatness of the amazing Christmases my parents provided for us. He wasn’t the loud or the showy one. Yet, there he was, sneaking out of his room in the middle of the night because he just didn’t see any reason to wait.
Lots of years have passed since those days. Christmas means more to me now than it did then, back when it was all presents and surprises and what-did-I-get. Now I think more about a baby in a manger. About His precious young mother, and a god-man life that burst into the world with little fanfare, but that instantly changed everything. But, I think sometimes I still approach the manger–and the cross–with my eyes covered, like a little girl trying not to rush the moment on Christmas morning. I like the thought of Jesus so much, but I stop short of actually trying to know Him. I like the idea of the cross, but I don’t want to get too close to all the unpleasantness of my own sin. It almost seems easier sometimes to live with the anticipation of all that Jesus can do in my life, to enjoy daydreaming about all of the great things that I’ll do for God, when what I should really do is just get up and walk into the living room to see what He has for me. No big show, no broadcasting of the moment, but just Jesus and me, and a quiet, knowing grin on my face, like the one my brother wore on Christmas morning.
So, this Christmas, I want to be a little more like that dark-haired hero that would let me into his room all those years ago. The boy who would let me chatter on about Santa when he already knew well exactly what we would find when the moment arrived. I want to stop trying to be satisfied with the anticipation of what Christ can do in me, and I want to open my eyes, right now, to what He is doing. God with us. God in us. God through us. God for us.
This is no hide-your-eyes religion. This is no I’ll-dive-in-another-day way of life. This is no one-moment-and-then-its-over sort of experience. If I want to know this baby that I am celebrating–really know Him–then I see no need to wait. It really is possible to tiptoe right past the incredible gift of truly knowing Christ. Clinging to ideas and thoughts and daydreams is holding tightly to nothing. But, clinging to the Savior and whatever it is that He wants to do through me, that is real.
And suddenly my arms are filled with the biggest gift in the history of everything.