My 2-year-old granddaughter Alice and I are putting together a gingerbread house. To keep her occupied while her older sister creates a house from a large kit, Alice and I work with a very small kit, which comes in a container the size of a cake mix box. There are four little walls, two roof pieces, some frosting and a bag of tiny colored balls for decoration.
I try to carefully glue the walls together with frosting while Alice smears frosting on the roof, her little fingers weighing down on the building which threatens to collapse. Although our house will not be an architectural feat, it is a lot of fun, especially when Alice discovers that the “glue” and the colored balls are both edible.
Although I try to keep up with picking up the occasional fallen ball, when we finish, Alice quickly stands up and a cascade of colored balls hidden on her lap flies around the room to parts unknown, including under the hutch.
The next day, as her dad vacuums, he asks in mock seriousness who put these balls all over the floor.
“Grandma,” Alice replies seriously. My fellow builder has thrown me under the bus.
The Christmas season always brings home two truths to me.
One truth is that we live in a marvelously, wonderfully incarnational faith. This mystery we call God loved us so much that God himself took on flesh and came to live among us, even being a 2-year-old once. This knowledge should help us to love ourselves and each other all the more, because despite our faults and human weaknesses, the Almighty wants to be with us in the most intimate way possible.
A messy human birth, a life that begins among shepherds, a marginalized group, and continues in a way that speaks over and over to God’s love for the poorest among us. And this life ends in humiliation and great pain. All because God wants to share everything with us.
Knowing this about Jesus’ life, how did we ever become so enmeshed in materialism, wealth building, status? How do we so often get it so backward, admiring the rich, disparaging the poor?
How do we so easily forget Mary’s words about casting the mighty from their thrones, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty?
The other truth of Christmas is how it marks the swift passage of time. When I gave birth to my first child, someone told me that it was a turning point. I was leaving behind the casual perception of my own eternal youthfulness and coming to grips with my human mortality. Because for every milestone I marked with this child, I would realize my own aging.
The first step, the first words, the first day of kindergarten, first holy Communion, soccer scores, learning to ride a bike, the driver’s license, the high school graduation, the college acceptance.
And all in a flash, exciting and joyful, yet more revealing of my own progression through life than spotting a new wrinkle or gray hairs. Somehow, all part of God’s mysterious plan.
And of course, grandchildren make that reality clearer as the years invite us to let go.
Yes, the first gingerbread house. The first realization that frosting tastes good. Alice will be a different girl next year, a little more knowledgeable, perhaps on her road to that sophistication kids pick up earlier and earlier these days.
And me? Hopefully, I’ll be another year older, too, marveling at the God who creates children and grandchildren, and grandmas, too.