One of my Ghosts of Christmas Past was a bicycle we bought for our first child. She was about 5, and the bike had to be assembled. Sure, I’m not a very handy guy, but how hard could it be? Attach handle bars and training wheels and…voila! So I set aside Christmas Eve night for assembly as soon as Emily went to bed.
Oh, the horror.
There is that point in assembling any item, whether it’s the cheap particle-board entertainment center you bought from Wal-Mart or a bicycle. that a feeling of impending doom sets in. After you are way into the job, you realize that somewhere in the process your plan went terribly wrong.
It’s more than half-way assembled, but you can tell either a major part is missing or you didn’t correctly follow the instructions. And due to the time you’ve already spent and the time you have left, you have reached a parental “point of no return”.
The feeling you experience at this point on Christmas Eve is similar to Dr. Kübler-Ross’ “Five stages of grief”: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance…
Denial – “Those jerks! There must be a missing part…although I can’t think of what one part would magically fix this mess.”
Anger – “How can they expect parents to construct this Rube Goldgergian nightmare?”
Bargaining – “Dear Lord, would you please heal this Bicycle? I promise never to wait until Christmas Eve again…”
Depression – “I am officially the worst father in the world. The debacle in front of me is the proof”
Acceptance is the final stage in the death process, and mine came wrapped in duct tape.
OK, you can stop judging me now. The kid was only 5, and she could never have driven the bike if her handle bars curved downward. They had to be upright for her to hold onto them. And either there was some bolt thingy I had missed, or I was going to have to improvise. And by the time 2am rolls around, you really don’t care that you’re a lousy parent. You just want something under the tree.
So out came the duct tape. All my style-conscious friends will be happy to know I was careful to wrap it decoratively at the central hub of the handle bars. Didn’t want it to look cheap, you know. It was a pink bike, so I reasoned that grey tape was kind of in the same color family…
Oh, shut up already. I can hear your smart aleck remarks even through the interwebs.
You could say Christmas is really all about failure. It’s God’s response to my epic moral failures. Theologians call it “the Fall of Man”, and the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 illustrates our rebellion against God’s rightful rule in our lives.
The failure patterns are easy to spot from childhood. We grow up learning healthy boundaries, rules and respect. We decide to push those boundaries to get our own way, often to the detriment of others. We destroy our relationships and ourselves in the process, while stiff-arming God and His right to guide our lives.
If I ever doubted the truth of this selfish cycle, parenting has effectively shoved it down my throat.
You watch your children as they flirt with wrong choices. You warn, you explain, you threaten…and they do it anyway. Then you watch as the consequences pour into their lives, and you grieve.
Why couldn’t you lend your wisdom and experience into them? And if only the love you have for them could empower them to resist the things seeking to destroy them.
This is where God found Himself after the Fall. I don’t mean to suggest He was caught off-guard by it – He knew it had to happen. He had to allow us to make our own choices even if that meant we’d choose wrong. He knew you and I would fail the test, so He had to have a follow-up plan to fix us after we failed.
So like any good parent, God made a way to rescue His children…
The Limitless One made Himself limited – the Uncontainable One contained Himself in a helpless human form. He slipped into the backdoor of a dirty little planet and covering himself with the dust of flesh.
He lived a life in front of our eyes, so we could see what God was like in a form we could comprehend. With His death on the cross He paid for our wrongs, and with His resurrection He destroyed the power death had over us because of our sin.
And when we simply accept this beautiful forgiveness He offers, He does the very thing I longed to do for my kids – He enters into our lives (by His Holy Spirit) to give us wisdom beyond our years and His own loving power working through us. The law we couldn’t live out in the Garden He is now enabling us to live through His love.
It reminds me of my favorite photo of my youngest daughter. In it, we are celebrating a Christmas around her fifth year. Music was playing and my baby wanted to dance. However, she had no idea how.
So I did what any good father would do – I picked her up in my arms, and I danced for the both of us. I’ve got this beautifully goofy picture of us, careening around the living room together. She didn’t need to know how to dance – I did all the heavy lifting for her.
Christmas is when God came down to earth to teach us to dance His most perfect choreography. So when you fall and when you fail, know your Father is ready to pick you up in His arms and whirl you across the dance floor.
All you have to do is reach for Him – He’ll do all the heavy lifting.