Growing up in a broken home, one of the most significant struggles of my young heart was the inability to grasp that my definition of family could expand. For years upon years, I thought that if I loved my father, I could not therefore love my mother and her new new husband, and if I loved my mother, I could not therefore love my father and his new wife. And somehow, after what felt like unceasing inward wrestling, an awareness emerged that reminded me of the beauty of situations where “both/and” is a far more appropriate means of understanding than “either/or.” There was no longer the thought that I must choose one parent or family dynamic over the other, but there was a desperately needed freedom to embrace two drastically different families and accept that both could be included in my personal framework of family.
My mother was the one who often reminded me of this truth through the years, which has taken time to gracefully rest into formerly clenched fists. While this “both/and” understanding was profound and honestly changed my life in the context of family narrative, it has planted a fruitful seed in the journey of my faith as well — a seed which I have sensed beginning to bloom this Advent season.
As I look upon the Christmas story, I see broad strokes of “both/and” painted throughout…
- the Son of God and the son of man
- a weary world and a thrill of hope
- a silent night and the screams of childbirth drowned out by a bustling and overcrowded Bethlehem
- the King of kings and a baby who needed the sustenance of his human mother’s milk
- angels and shepherds
- uncertainty and rest
- darkness and a new and glorious morn
- one whom Heaven cannot hold and yet a stable sufficed
- purity and a musky, dirty stable
- the glory of Heaven and the poverty of earth
These seemingly contradictory truths can only be understood through a “both/and” lens, as an “either/or” perspective would deeply deprive the meaning. To me, this unique and intentional collision of divinity and humanity offers us the freedom to embrace all elements of our own present story.
Perhaps the pangs of loss are thick and yet hope glimmers.
Perhaps childlike expectation and a weathered spirit can dwell together.
Perhaps we can embrace that we have overcome and are still overcoming.
Perhaps the great God of the universe chose to become Emmanuel, God with us, so we could unashamedly bring to Him all of our our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, our tears and laughter, our grief and our dreams, our faith which questions and wrestles and trusts…and all of the seemingly disparate pieces of ourselves.
And perhaps the gold, frankincense, and myrrh we can offer to this Christ child is the honesty of our own story with the promise that “where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”