Several years ago a wonderful friend of mine – on a Christmas Week much like we find ourselves now basking – allowed me to see a copy of a Christmas Eve reflection that he had shared with his intimate church family some 10 years earlier. As I read it the first time, I openly wept, its message moving me deeply, and I have begged and begged ever since to be allowed to share it with my readers.
In an unexpected early “gift,” if you please, he has just agreed to allow me to publish it. He does not want to be identified – he and his wife are both prominent members of the Chattanooga community – and that’s because neither wants this to be about them. No, they strongly want the focus to be on those who do not see the glitter, hear the lilt in the song, or stare in wonder of the Christmas tree. This is about a “real” Christmas.
I had tried to explain to the author this message is crucial to those who struggle, whether it is those unable to buy presents for their young, those who cannot face their families, or even do not attend public worship services for fear of publicly weeping. This is a very real story, told by one -- again who is widely respected and appreciated -- yet was like every other struggler among us when he finally, at the end of his rope, cried out. This is about, at that precise moment, what he found. May God above bless us with equal insight.
What he heard, in his moment, is what I personally believe what every one of us should embrace, when we can no longer see the glitter in the tinsel, and because my friend gave me the gift of sharing his worst Christmas, may this lesson make yours the best:
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CHRISTMAS EVE SERVICE, 2004
Among the many blessings that God has shared with me and my wife, one of the most profound has been our 8-year old son. You see, (he) has autism. Autism is a psychological disorder that interferes with an individual’s ability to perceive and relate to the world. Autistic children see things differently than you and I; they hear things differently than you and I; and they think about things differently than you and I. Ordinarily, children with autism have extreme difficulty relating to their peers, their siblings, even their parents.
One Sunday morning a couple of years ago, as our family was getting ready to leave for Sunday school, I could tell that my son was not quite right – something was bothering him, although I could not tell what it was. I suggested that my wife take the girls on to Sunday school and, hopefully, my son and I would meet them in time for church.
After the girls left, my son and I visited with one another. We read together, sang songs, and played. I really felt as if I were connecting with him in a way that is only too rare. It seemed as if, for once in a very long time, I was actually able to reach through the layers of babbling, hand flapping and obsessions that plague my son and reach the person, the little boy, I have always known to live beneath that blanket of confusion. I could feel him connecting with me, even loving me.
Full of devotion and tenderness toward my son, and maybe even a little pride in my parenting, I went upstairs to get my suit coat. When I came back down, however, my happy little morning fell apart. In the time it had taken me to go upstairs and come right back down, my son had had a bowel movement.
And whereas most six-year olds would have run into the bathroom to take care of business, my son had begun to play with it. There was filth all over his hands, his clothes, and even in his hair.
I whisked my son into the bathroom and sat him on the commode. I then began working to clean him up, rubbing and scrubbing, full of disappointment and frustration. As I cleaned, my son began to wince and cry. He retreated into his own little world and began to babble, flap his hands and scream in protest against the soap and hot water.
After a moment, I stepped back and looked at my son, sitting there stained with tears and filth. After I had watched him for a moment, I cried out, more to myself than to him …
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“Son, what are you doing?! This is not what our relationship is supposed to be like! I want to take you hunting and fishing. I want to talk with you about things that matter; I want to tell you about girls, and I want to teach you about the things that are important in life, and some day, I would like to lead you to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. But we can’t have any of that – you are locked away in your own little world, and I can barely reach you, if at all! (Son,) I love you so much! Why can’t I reach you?
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Right at that point, God seemed to lay His hand upon my heart, and in that moment He impressed upon me something I will never forget:
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“(My child,) this is how I see you. Yes, you know me as your Lord and Savior, but I want you to know Me as your friend. I want to walk with you and talk with you and fellowship with you in a much deeper, much more meaningful way. I love you so much! But just as your son is obsessed with meaningless thoughts and trivia that interferes with your ability to have a relationship with him, so too you are preoccupied with the cares and concerns of this world – and sometimes you find yourself covered with filth, and I have to clean you up.”
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On this Night before Christmas, do you understand how much God really loves you? Have you ever really thought about it? Consider this: In the eyes of the World my son is faulted and flawed; yet despite these faults and flaws, I love him passionately.
But as much as I love my son, God loves him, and you, and me ever so much more – our faults and our flaws notwithstanding. And just as my son’s psychological condition interferes with his ability to have a relationship with me, so too our sin and our preoccupation with this World interfere with our ability to have a relationship with our Heavenly Father.
Unlike autism, however, there is a cure for sin and the curse of this World. You see, God wants so desperately to reach us that He sent his Son Jesus to help make the connection that we cannot make on our own. The true message of Christmas has nothing to do with packages or presents, which from an eternal prospective have so little meaning. No, the true meaning of Christmas is that God so loves my son and you, and me that He sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
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Merry Christmas, indeed – this is the season of hope. If Jesus brings you to it, He will see your though it.