Christmas is a time for celebrating God's greatest "invention" - incarnating Himself in a human baby body, and speaking to us of His love, His servanthood, His humility, His sharing in our lives, by drawing us into His journey to and birth in a stable manger. We talk often in sermons and books about the lessons we learn from this, how God continues to incarnate Himself in our lives in so many ways. But it still feels to me that I don't expect Him to. I somehow believe that certain events are separate from who we really are, even when we are with family and friends. And then He surprises us again with new evidence of His awareness of us, new speech through the language of our bodies.
Such was my experience this Christmas day. My daughters and I had created a lovely Christmas atmosphere, for ourselves as a family, and for our guests later in the day. While a bit pressured, those preparations were meaningful and fruitful. We enjoyed the moments of giving and receiving gifts carefully chosen for each other. That seemed enough for me, being with my family and enjoying their joy, their company. I was not prepared for what happened. My older daughter had saved a special gift to the last. It was a photo book of her recent photos from the trip to Uganda this year by both our daughters, blended with photos from their childhood there, mostly taken by me. She had it made into a beautiful bound book by Mac. It is called THE RETURN HOME. As I moved from page to page, seeing the combination of past and present, familiar faces and places, all sensitively bound together, I cried and cried. "It takes a lot to make Mum cry", my daughter had said to someone the week before, in another context. And it is true. And here I was, on Christmas morning, blubbering my eyes out over photos I had seen many times before.
My body was telling me that there is so much grief still to heal, so much joy still to celebrate, about our years in Uganda. Amazed and overwhelmed by this incarnated sign of God's love, I had to stop and put it aside, and get on with preparations for our Christmas dinner guests.
We had a delightful meal in every way, with meaningful conversation and delicious food. Games and laughter followed for hours. A friend from Toronto phoned to share her good news after months of trials. A neighbour dropped in to join us for dessert and games. It had been a great day. Our guests left in mid evening, all of us in cheery form.
I was tired and went to bed early, suddenly aware of huge fatigue, wondering if I had a bug. My stomach warned me of impending events, and I tried to stave off the wretched moment. I could not believe it was happening after such a special day. I had not overeaten and no one else seemed ill affected by the food. The pain would not go away, and the relief was swift, but there was more to come. Sleep came after many hours, and the next morning I asked the Lord what it was all about.
Somehow I knew it was not a bug, or food poisoning. It was my body telling me that there is too much going on in my life. That there is so much left to heal, and that I ignore my emotions and they come out through my body. I need to pay more attention and take better care of me. God was doing me a favour by incarnating truth in a way that I would get the message.
Later the next day he gave me a conversation with one of the guests, at their drop in gathering down the street. She saw the incarnated lesson clearly, and, from her own very parallel experiences, of mission life, sudden loss and great grief, and ignoring her own emotions, added her words to God's message. He made sure I would receive this sign of His love to me, His personal agenda of concern and care for me in the midst of this season for others.
And that is His constant message to each and every one of us. We are individually so important to Him that He cares enough to give us suffering in our bodies to pay attention to our needs, and to readjust our focus. We can never do without incarnation, with our bodies to tell us what we need to know. I think we as Christians, let alone as humans, so often ignore and abuse our bodies, and think that spiritual truth can only speak in disembodied ways. But so often it is the opposite. God knew that from the very beginning, of course. And He continues to graciously tell us what He knows, every way He can, every day. What a good God.