First things first, “Merry Christmas!” What a precious, beautiful, wonderful time of year this is. A time when the whole world takes a breath to pause and remember the Prince of Peace who came and who is coming again one day. We fall on our knees and hear the angel voices from the night divine when deity became flesh and moved in among us.
And amidst all of the holiness and beauty…there is also real life. Real life with four kids under the Christmas tree. Real life wrapping presents until 2am on Christmas Eve, something you promise yourself you will not do again but find yourself doing again every year, running last minute errands to buy gifts for people who bring you a gift and you don’t have a gift for (worst feeling ever), taking sick kids to the doctor who have styes in their eye (who has time for styes or anything other sick thing on planet earth for that matter the week before Christmas), hauling your six year old to her first basketball practice at 8am three days before Christmas (what in the actual heck), trying to get things done but getting nothing done when you have a two-year-old underfoot who sneaks nail polish from her sister’s stash and paints it all over your desk chair in your kitchen, and, of course, icing sugar cookies in your kitchen and destroying your kitchen when you need it to stay clean for the rest of the year.
My six-year-old, Caroline, made this beauty of a cookie:
I was puzzled when I first saw the cookie and asked, “Caroline, that looks like a cross, but what is that on the cross?”
“Jesus. That’s Jesus, mom.”
Right. Not totally sure if I should laugh or cry, I chose the former option and had to wipe away tears I was laughing so hard. Jesus with a mustache on the cross on a sugar cookie. We’re keepin’ it real around here.
And that’s what I love about Christmas. It’s the mix of beautiful moments of mystery when I am caught off guard by the glory and holiness of Immanuel made flesh in all of the sweet fragrance and vulnerability of a newborn and the moments of reality of Jesus with a mustache on a sugar cookie cross made by a kid with a sty in her eye you have to wake up early to get to basketball practice.
This Christmas, more than ever, I have seen that somehow I live in the intertwining of those two moments, and the trick is to learn how to stop when the mystery overtakes me and let it in, let it into my ordinary tasks, routines, problems, short comings, failures, messes, and joys whenever it has the notion to come knocking on my door.
The Sunday before Christmas I was doing the very ordinary task of addressing Christmas cards while keeping one eye on the 60 Minutes show in front of me. The show was highlighting a group of Syrians in Aleppo known as The White Helmets. They are a group of very ordinary men who perform extraordinary feats of courage.
Aleppo is in the center of the Syrian rebellion against the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad and has undergone intense siege and starvation for the past five years. According to 60 Minutes, the past few weeks, the Assad dictatorship has increased their air strikes over Aleppo’s dense neighborhoods. Many times, military targets are not targeted; in fact, the terrifying thing is that nothing is targeted. Barrels of shrapnel and TNT are dropped indiscriminately over any neighborhood the Assad forces do not control. Concrete homes collapse with full families inside, and people’s greatest fear is that they will be buried alive, trapped under the rubble without any hope of digging themselves out. Their fate will be to die by suffocating or bleeding to death under the rubble of their own homes as so many have done before them.
Civilians’ only hope is the Syrian civil defense known as the White Helmets, a self-appointed, all-Syrian volunteer force of rescue workers whose sole purpose is to bring people out of the rubble…alive.
My task of addressing Christmas cards was abandoned as I glued my eyes to the screen in front of me to learn about these extraordinary men. Every time a bomb goes off and a home or building collapses, these men rush to the rescue in their white helmets, taking their very lives into their hands. They have a 50/50 chance of survival, for many times, a second bomb is dropped within minutes after the first, targeting and terrorizing the rescue workers who have come to dig people out of their concrete graves.
Two young rescue workers were interviewed, and I watched as they talked about digging for six to seven hours at a time and then having the indescribable joy of pulling someone thought to be dead out into a second chance at life. They said, “We feel as if we brought that person back to life. The joy is indescribable.”
Over the past five years, it is estimated that the White Helmets have saved close to 70,000 lives, and every time a survivor is pulled out from the rubble, the workers shout their gratitude to their God. Don’t miss this opportunity to watch as a ten-day-old baby is pulled from the rubble after sixteen hours of labor from The White Helmets and given back to a mother who lost her husband and only other child in the destruction of the bomb. Contrary to what the commentator in the clip says, the baby was a boy, not a girl, and the child did survive and is a healthy two-year-old today:
At one point in the 60 Minutes segment, the rescue of a sixteen-year-old boy was highlighted who was completed buried under the weight of his concrete roof except for his shoulder and one part of his arm. Rescue workers dug for hours in order to pull him out, and once they had uncovered his face, you can hear one of the White Helmets asking him, “Brother, can you see our light?”
The purpose of Christmas was redefined for me as I learned about the White Helmets. The coming of Christ to earth showed less like a Hallmark Channel Christmas special and more like a 60 Minutes segment on a White Helmet rescue operation. The baby who was born was born to die under the weight of our sin so that we would have a second chance at life, life resurrected from a shallow grave. And as followers of Christ, every day for us should bear the mark of the intensity and self-abandon with which the White Helmets work. Bombs go off around us continually in the hearts and families of people we love. We, too, are to respond and to dig with little thought for ourselves, all the while asking those who are buried in the dark around us, “Brother, can you see our Light?” The Light of the One who came to die so that we might live.
When asked at the end of the interview if he was afraid of dying or losing his life in the work of rescuing others, one of the young White Helmets replied, “The goal is to save the most people in the least amount of time…But in the end, I’ve left my mark. I’ve left children who are going to live and complete our future.”
What about you, and what about me? Are we living giving great attention to leaving our mark by working as hard as we can and as fast as we can to pull people from death into everlasting life? Are we living in the dark with our light on, asking those around us, “Can you see our light?” Are we experiencing that same joy and victorious celebration every time someone else is pulled out from the rubble, dead in their own sin and circumstances, and given a rebirth because of the One who laid His life down?
The mystery of the rescue mission of the Gospel entered my reality, and I was given a new lens through which to see. Can you?
So how are you and I to receive the gift of Christmas? The White Helmets and my friend Ellery helped me answer this question this year. Watch this video clip of Ellery receiving her Christmas present, and if you are anything like me, you can’t help but watch it…and cry:
When Ellery received her gift, she received it with overwhelming gratitude. She received it with shouts of victory and celebration and great joy. She received it with humble thanks given to parents she knows love her, sacrifice for her, and have overwhelming love in mind for her in the gifts they give.
So like Ellery, let the mystery enter your mundane this Christmas season and draw you into the greatest gift, the greatest joy, and the greatest rescue mission this earth has even seen. No matter your reality, put on the lens of wonder, the lens that lets you see that we are rubble survivors, pulled from a narrow grave when we had no ability to save ourselves. Let receiving that gift be your greatest joy this Christmas season, and again and again throughout the year.
Brothers and sisters, can you see His Light? He has come to dig you out and to give you…great joy.
To watch the full 60 Minutes episode on The White Helmets, click here.
And for more encouragement this week, don’t forget to connect with me on Facebook.