by Linda Effinger Quinde I don’t experience Christmas in the twinkling lights of Michigan Avenue. I love the wreaths around the lions at the Art Institute, but it’s not there either. It’s not in the smell of Christmas trees, nor the brilliant poinsettias, nor the carols. I experience Christmas in one place: The simplicity of the nativity scene. All season, I eagerly anticipate Christmas Eve. When it finally comes and I settle into the pew and hear the reading of the gospel, tears begin to flow. The tears wash away stress, superficiality, commercialism, consumerism. As I wipe them away, I quietly contemplate God’s gift to us on Christmas -- the gift of his Son, born in a manger, “The Word [who] became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” [John 1:14]. It all happened that night in Bethlehem. God became flesh and made his dwelling among us, “full of grace and truth.” This is hard for me to wrap my head and heart around on a frantic shopping day in mid-December. On Christmas Eve, though, I listen to the scripture in quiet wonder: “ And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” [Luke 2:8-14] The shepherds were scared, but they listened and acted, and they met the Christ child that night. Similarly, the wise men watched the skies that night. They, too, acted on what they saw, and they, too, ended up at the manger: “Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” …. After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” [Matthew 2: 1-2, 9-11] I love visualizing this – Mary and Joseph, still wondering how all of this could have happened in the first place, but continuing to trust God; the newborn Christ child; barn animals; curious shepherds; three kings; their enormous entourages.... It’s hard to imagine that it actually happened, and that God really did become one of us. But what I’ve come to realize is that, when it comes to God, I don’t have to understand, or be able to explain, or know where the path is going to lead. Following in the footsteps of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men, I accept that my job is to listen, watch, and be willing to say YES. Lord, help me to be like Mary – willing to serve you however and wherever you need me, in ways I can’t imagine or even think possible. Help me to be like Joseph and accept that you may have different plans for me than I have for myself. Help me to be like the shepherds and, even when I’m terrified of the possibilities ahead, have the courage to move forward. And help me to be like the wise men, staying on course by paying attention to where you lead. Amen.