A Different Sort of Christmas Anxiety

It’s two days after Christmas. A week ago, Katie and I moved to Colombia.

We’ve had a few days of rest and relaxation on the gorgeous Caribbean beaches of Cartagena before moving on to Medellin where we are living.

Despite many moments of joy and gratitude, laughter and enjoyment, I have found myself anxious. A persistent sense that the future is terrifyingly uncertain has been stalking me since we arrived.

Despite having lived in 14 cities in 9 different countries, this particular transition overseas has brought me into a heightened encounter with a basic existential reality: the future is uncertain, uncontrollable, unknowable. And encountering that here outside my normal context, without the usual securities of home and familiarity that act as a kind of soothing balm to the psyche, has been ratcheting up my anxiety.

This brings to mind the Christmas story.

It must have been terrifying for God to take on flesh and be born as a human, one like us. Limited. Afraid. With a propensity to feel deep anger and grief. Prone to physical illness and hard to control impulses.

For God to incarnate as a human, God underwent the same uncertainty we do.

I imagine the anxiety in God when God chose to be vulnerable to the point of taking on skin, bone, blood, and breath. God chose to do this as a reflection of the vulnerability at the heart of the Trinity.

God voluntarily moves from eternity into the field of time, entering into the world of fragmentation, suffering, and mortality.

God risked life in the messy, violent, broken world that God created, taking the ultimate risk in loving humanity and all of creation as intimately as possible–in the flesh.

To be human is to be uncertain. To be human is to feel fear, because to be human is to be vulnerable, no matter what defenses we use to shield ourselves, regardless of what mechanisms we use to gain a sense of security.

Knowing that God struggled with the exact same things we struggle with, including the anxiety of uncertainty, doesn’t make it go away. It’s not a palliative for existential or circumstantial woes. But it does something: it places us inside the Christmas narrative, not only as a historical event that happened back then 2,000 years ago, but in a way that we can sense that God isn’t immune to uncertainty. That God feels what we feel, knows the very uncomfortability we know.

This allows us to release judgment toward ourselves and take a posture of radical acceptance of our anxiety and uncertainty as part and parcel of the grand story of incarnation. We recognize God’s anxiety inside of our own uncertainty and fear.

From this place, we not only celebrate Christmas and the birth of Christ, but move to a deeper level, to a knowing that we are undergoing Christmas, being transformed into the Nativity of God here and now, as we accept and see God in the heart of our anxiety.

May you take the time and space you need, whatever your circumstances in this season of your life, to attend to the places inside where deep uncertainty dwells and behold Christ being born there.

 

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