As we ride around after dark, we are greeted by houses adorned with lights that bring the darkness to life, adding beauty to seemingly desolate landscapes. Similarly, homes are adorned with the symbols of Christmas from trees to nativities to candles to stockings to wreaths.
From outside, the warm glow of Christmas trees and fires crackling in hearths and decorations are an invitation to bask in the presence of Christmas. Yes, outward beauty abounds.
But what of the heart?
The other night, we took our girls to the annual Christmas stroll in town where my oldest met up with Santa. I shared that when asked by Santa what she wanted down deep in her heart, she looked away and paused before telling him, I’m usually excited with whatever gift I receive.
But, there’s more to this story.
You see, I’ve been present in the moments when my seven-year-old has opened gifts, and her reaction? It doesn’t match her words. In fact, her reactions and actions contradict what she told Santa: I’m usually excited with whatever gift I receive.
This seeming contradiction has echoed through me since Friday night. In part because I know it appears an obvious embellishment to those who have given gifts to my sweet girl and witnessed her less-than-grateful response to what their thoughtful gift. Gifts have been received with tears and such expressions as, I hate this! or Why did I get a stupid book?! or I don’t want this!
But, the thing is, my seven-year-old has Asperger’s and that means that her responses are not always what one expects. Nor do they necessarily reflect her heart’s response. And that includes when she opens a gift. Even so, her response is always honest, raw, unfiltered — beautiful.
The rest of the story is what happens later, when her brain has the opportunity to process the gift she’s received and catch up with her heart. When the gift becomes as precious to her brain as it has been to her heart from the moment she received it.
As I reflected upon what seemed a contradiction or an embellishment, what I discovered was evidence of God’s truth and His perspective: The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV)And with her words to Santa my seven-year-old captured what can be a raw, beautiful and unfiltered truth: often our hearts know the love and grace and hope of Jesus, of Christmas, before our brains recognize it. And that’s okay. Because that’s why there was a manger with a baby in a stable in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. A King came near and there He stayed; God with us, in heart and mind and soul.
The outward beauty of Christmas brings delight and joy indeed, but a heart that celebrates Christmas, a heart that overflows with the love and joy and peace and hope and grace that flows from Jesus and into the world, that is what I long to embrace this year.