I’m just not very good at Christmas.

This year, the only decorating I did was putting my Williams-Sonoma Christmas cookbook on display in my kitchen.  You’re probably thinking, But at least you used the cookbook, and that counts for something.

Actually, I didn’t use the cookbook.  Never even opened it.

I did a little cooking, though.  I made the same dish I bring every year to my family’s Christmas gathering – green beans with blue cheese sauce.  But this time, the sauce tasted funny.  I checked the ingredients and found that the white wine Worcestershire sauce I’d used had expired on 11-11-05.  I probably purchased that bottle two years before I filed for divorce.  Apparently, it soured around the same time my marriage did.

After a trip I to the store for a new bottle of Worcestershire, I again attempted the recipe I’ve prepared at least a dozen times over the years.  And halfway through this second batch, I realized that the recipe doesn’t call for white wine Worcestershire sauce.  It calls for white wine vinegar.

In my head, I can hear Ursula of Ursula’s Cooking School saying in her thick German accent, “You are a lazy, lousy cook.”  But I’m not just challenged in the kitchen. Due to the fact that I’ve never quite figured out whether I’m left-handed or right-handed, I’m kind of dangerous with scissors.  You know those school projects that look as if some kid’s mommy did the work?  Gifts I wrap look like I paid a three-year-old with ADHD to do the work for me.

So like I said, I’ve never been very good at Christmas.  This year, however, I found my gift.

Last Friday evening, during Christmas Eve services at my brother’s church in Atlanta, I found myself in the pew next to my little niece, Kate, who’s six. While my brother gave his Christmas message, Kate grabbed approximately sixteen offering envelopes from the back of the pew front of her and drew on every single one of them – a heart on this one, a flower on that, a Christmas tree on another, and her name on all of them.  When the message was over, the congregation stood for communion.  Little Kate held one of the communion cups – plastic, and about half the size of a shot glass – filled with grape juice in her hands.  She sniffed at it, then pulled me down to whisper in my ear:  “Is this really the blood of Jesus?”

“No, baby,” I whispered back. “Remember how you were just drawing pictures on those envelopes?  And you drew a tree?”  She nodded, and I continued, “That wasn’t a real tree, just a picture of a tree, right?”  Again she nodded, and I said, “That’s not Jesus’ blood.  It’s just a picture of his blood.  It’s really grape juice.”  Kate grinned and threw back the grape juice like it was a shot of tequila.

I’m no good at Christmas decorating or cooking or shopping or wrapping.  But I am good at drawing word pictures that help a little girl understand a tough concept.

And isn’t that what Christmas is?  It’s God getting down on our level and drawing a picture to help us understand a greater truth. You want forgiveness, salvation, and peace?  Become like a child, God said, and handed us a picture.

After the service, Kate left her envelopes on the pew. I picked them up and threw them in the trash on my way out of the church. They were, after all, just pictures.  A real tree with presents under it was waiting for her at home.

Sometimes I think we get so hung up on the picture God drew for us that we forget it’s just a picture and not the real thing.  Yes, Christmas and the babe in the manger and Silent Night are lovely, but the real story is that, just like the Baby Jesus, we all came from God and are ultimately returning to God.  And the time in between is the present.

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