Telling stories breathes life into them, forming habitations in our minds and hearts built with words. I remember as Christmas approached during my early childhood we would deck the halls, then my father would lift me into his arms and carry me around to see the dazzling ornaments, especially the ones too high for me to enjoy from afar. He would talk about the meaning of the nativity, the angels, and the lights. The wonder of traditions steeped in meaning instilled a deep sense of peace, joy and belonging – a sense of belonging to something far greater and profound than my tiny life, yet intimate, loving and near. And when I went to bed, visions of heavenly hosts and wise men from the east danced in my head. And lyrics to songs of joy, “let every heart prepare Him room”, started to form a habitation for Jesus Christ in my heart.
Over the years I tried to create meaningful holidays for our girls as we lived in other countries. When they were young in Ukraine, we would sled and play in the snow, then get toasty by the fire with mugs of hot chocolate while singing carols by candlelight. Ukraine was a magical place for our children during the Christmas season because we celebrated Christmas twice – with our family and expat friends in December and with Ukrainian friends during Orthodox Christmas in January. In recent years, one young Ukrainian woman was especially touched by the warmth of love and joyful celebration during the Christmas season.
Lilia grew up without a father and decided to become an atheist as a girl because religion was devoid of meaning for her. She stayed away from religious people, thinking they were irrelevant and dictatorial. So she made a brave step one day to join our discussion group at a cafe just before the holiday season began. She knew no one in the group, but fit in immediately. Lilia possessed a sharp mind and wit, and was always ready to engage in our discussions about truth and the meaning of life. Whenever she would debate, she had the most winning smile. I once mentioned to her that even if a person disagreed with her, they would love her smile.
“Oh, but I am not usually this way,” she said. “I am just so happy when I am here. I never knew Christians could be so normal and talk about the questions I have about life in a real, meaningful way.”
We invited her to our Christmas party where we sang about the One who gives meaning to life. And as the lights lit up the tree, she knew a light was beginning to illuminate her mind and heart for the first time. “I am beginning to change how I view things,” she said one day. “I know now that God is real.” She began to see that the creation, fall, redemption narrative made sense and shed light on her questions about life. C. S. Lewis wrote that he believed in God “as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Building a relationship with Lilia and engaging her in the deep questions she had about life and God was a supernaturally natural experience. God touched her as only He can, but she felt the freedom to be accepted and cared for by us whether or not she accepted what we were saying.
God is the ultimate Playwright who has written clues about Himself into the universe and into the intricacies of our hearts, and our stories begin to make sense in light of the wonderful miracle of His story we celebrate during this season.
“ ‘She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ ” (which means “God with us”) Matthew 1:23