Guest Post By: Natalie Erickson
I am sure that we’ve all at least one fond memory of being a child in possession of a pop-up book. Pause a moment, look back, and picture the book resting in your tiny lap…your eyes reveling in child-like wonder at the unthinkable magic and beauty that this pop-up book afforded your imaginative mind. With every recurring turn of the page came a unique, three-dimensional surprise – a page-turning new world of unfathomable creation – set into motion by an author whose imagination withstood all obstacles.
Over the course of twenty-six years of life, I have turned the pages of many a pop-up book. Recently, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a pop-up book of old…one whose pages I myself had turned with chubby little fingers and gleeful giggles. If ever the opportunity arises, open up a pop-up book as an adult and take some time to admire the artistry. Trace with your finger every delicate corner and contour that makes it possible for the page’s identical segments to fit seamlessly back into the page, like a perfectly cut puzzle piece. It is an incredible design to be sure. All of a sudden, a one-dimensional world becomes three-dimensional and alive! Now imagine if every detail were not defined and perfect. The image would become caught on the harsh grooves and jagged edges of the page, forbidding the page transform into the three-dimensional embodiment it was created to become.
During a time of year such as Christmas, in which I am forced to re-open my life’s own picture book, I often come face to face with a flat, dimensionless plane rather than the usual dimensional “pop-up” world that so closely mirrors our own. Here is a question for you… Do you ever feel like a one-dimensional person living within an already three-dimensional world? That your harsh, jagged edges do not properly fit within the meticulously dotted lines of expectation? How are we to suitably arrive at the three-dimensional design we were created to conform to when it seems we do not fit the puzzle pieces we were conceptually designed to seamlessly align with? The answer is simple. When left to our OWN devices, we have never (and will never) be capable of such a transformation.
I cannot speak for you but, personally, I find the beginnings of the Christmas season easy to spot. Christmas usually commences with the proverbial regurgitation of festive shades of reds and greens, canvasing anything and everything that seems in dire need of a little dusting of Christmas spirit. Shimmering lights of all shapes, colors and luminosity begin subtly twinkling merrily in store windows to becoming grandiose spectacles for nightly family outings. Glossy ornaments, tucked far back into the Christmas tree, gleam fancifully while the local radio stations eagerly switch on the old familiar Christmas tunes before the masses have had ample time to emotionally prepare. As a society, we say it all the time… This time of year is either meant for the people who take the time to sit back, relax and enjoy the traditions or for those people whose lives are already chaotic enough that they need an even better excuse to spend a month in a mental institution. Cut and dry, right?
I grew up loving Christmas in what some might view an unconventional fashion. As a child, Christmas seemed to be the single space of time in which everyone was happy. Looking back, I realize now that most of it was a facade of forced joy...skillfully persuasive when considering the gullibility of a child, but a facade nonetheless. With every Christmas that passed, I became more and more content with that one month of festive fakery because it offered a small semblance of normalcy which, in turn, encouraged extravagant dreams of what a future of endless Christmases might look like. But as
Christmas always does…it came and went and, with it, fled the magic of this three-dimensional world it invited every year for a single month. I grew to perceive Christmas as a fleeting moment in life in which I felt needed and important…thriving in this pretend world I had created for myself that was alive, engaging, and brimming with inspiration. To this day, whether it manifests itself in the form of my love for gift-giving, creating beauty in the form of festively cozy ambiances, or unsuccessfully attempting awkward combinations of song and dance routines to Christmas classics played on a loop…all of it remains a petty attempt to dismiss the hopelessness many of us experience this time of year. In the end, every fictitious storybook runs out of pages, leaving us grasping in vain for a gratifying ending that may never have been there to begin with. Fortunately for us, our story is one that was never meant to end in futility.
I say it all the time…I LOVE WORDS! “O Holy Night” is, perhaps, one of my favorite Christmas songs because of its simplistic yet meaningful lyrics. As you know, “O Holy Night” speaks to a celebratory night: “…the night of our dear Savior’s birth”. My favorite portion of the song reads thus:
“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn”.
I have never been a morning person so I cannot attest to having seen many morns break yonder…but I can say, with confidence, that this particular morning was definitely history’s most notable. What an incredible moment it must have been to have been present to experience the first rays of sunrise usher into Bethlehem the long-awaited realization that this swaddled child was the Savior prophesied to emancipate the world from the pangs of eternal death. This particular sunrise carried with it the onset of a completely new set of blueprints for the world…an eternal plan meant to shepherd a dying world – already drowning in the weary throes of hopelessness – to a world ALIVE with the hope of redemption!
When God began writing our individual stories, he was aware of the coarse, unshorn state of being that he was cutting us from…and was already prepared with a sleek, uniform mold in which to fit us. Instead of becoming hung up on the glitz, glam, and promises of fulfillment Christmas advertises, the season should act a reminder that God also did not intend for us to live in a world void of complexity or necessity. In those places of acceptance and reliance are found the integral moments in which God is able to step in and help us realize, fully, both the futility of our own situation and dire need for his intervention.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10 explains that the object of Jesus’s coming acts in direct opposition to that of the thief’s intentions. Where the thief comes only to take, Jesus came to give…but not of simple gifts. Jesus came to offer us ABUNDANT LIFE…“Abundant” as in an overflowing increase BEYOND what is already essential to life! God not only promised us life in its most basic form, He promised us blessings above and beyond what was necessary to live the beginnings of a happy, fruitful life. In Ephesians 1, Paul
speaks of “…the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us…” referencing a welling-over of undeserved gifts, afforded us through an outpouring of grace. It was not enough that Christ (acting in mercy) ultimately spared us from the permanent damnation of lasting death. No, he then went on to name us “His Beloved” and prepare every one of us a place in glory. From beginning to end – from birth to death to life – it seems such a fantastical story… Can you believe it is true?
So in the moments of questioning, when you take your own personal pop-up book into your lap, struggling to open it for fear of what you may find inside…remember who your author is. Treasure everything you have learned about who he is, recall all that you know of his infinite mercy and grace and of the redeeming story he has already written the world. There is no universe so bleak in which you are capable of residing in a one-dimensional form because God’s artistry is not confined to the barrenness of a one-dimensional universe.
Open the cover of your book.
Turn its pages with bated breath…
Welcome, beloved, to the third dimension