It's nearly Christmas. Christmas. A mention of the word triggers a slide show of memories from seasons past. Cutting down our own tree. Reading the Christmas story by the fire. Carols, snow angels, and ornaments we made ourselves. I used to think there was no more special time of year.
I still think that. But even though I love the spirit of the season, this year, things are different. I guess I always knew that Christmas could be any day. For me, experiencing the presence of the Christ - God's immeasurable love for each of His children - is what turns an ordinary day into Christmas. But now I know that for sure. I know because this year, I found Christmas in July.
After a phone call last winter, I wondered whether my world would ever be the same. The news that my sister had been raped shook me to the core. Family members were struggling to cope.
Eventually our phone conversations indicated to me that she was fine, but I couldn't shake the image of terror, the fear of aftereffects. I wanted to be strong - to help my family, to help my sister. But for months, even when I tried my hardest to listen to God, it felt like all I was getting over the airwaves, so to speak, was static.
During this time I was in the middle of a study project that involved an in-depth examination of "wholeness." I'd been intrigued to discover that "whole" is defined both as "sound or unhurt" and "having been restored or healed." That seemed somewhat contradictory. Didn't the former exclude the latter?
I was still asking myself this question as I began looking at the uses of the word "whole" in the New Testament accounts of Jesus' healings. And at first glance, it did seem that wholeness related only to definition No. 2.
The people Jesus healed were in need of restoration, and that's what they got. "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague," he said to the woman who'd had "an issue of blood" for 12 years (see Mark 5:25-34). And of the man at the pool of Bethesda, who'd suffered for 38 years, Jesus asked, "Wilt thou be made whole?" He, too, was healed (see John 5:2-9).
Yet as I continued to consider these healings, it struck me that there was more going on than restoration. Perhaps not to the onlookers or to those healed. But, I thought, had Jesus not seen those he healed as whole - sound, unhurt, complete - from the get-go, could he have healed them?
What I realized was that at the center of every one of Jesus' healings was the action of the Christ, which brought to light each individual's spiritual perfection as already at hand. Jesus' command "Be whole," then, was not a command just for physical change. Rather, it was a demand for a radical thought shift from the material to the spiritual, a prayer that the Christ that governed Jesus' perspective would dawn in the hearts and minds of everyone in need. The result was healing, restoration. But the gift of Christ was and still is the revelation of each individual's inherent and unchanging wholeness.
There's a hymn I love that gets at this need for a change in perspective. It reads, in part:
We thank Thee, when in anguish
We turn from sense to Soul,
That we may hear Thee calling:
Rejoice, for thou art whole.
("Christian Science Hymnal," No. 374)
When I remembered that hymn not long after I began my project, I delighted in the extra dimension it brought to my understanding of wholeness. The Christ, I realized, doesn't just reveal our innate soundness; it inspires us to rejoice in this wholeness, regardless of the circumstances.
I was surprised when, with that recognition, a feeling of peace flowed over me. It was gentle. Simple. It spoke through a feeling, not words. I knew, deep down, that it was the Christ, with its powerful reassurance that my sister - about whom I'd despaired for so long - was whole. Not just restored, but unhurt. And that nothing had ever changed that. The Christ was offering me God's view of the situation. And for the first time, I was ready to accept it.
Yes, this season I'm looking forward to adding more golden moments to that slide show of memories. But the summer day that the Christ dawned in my heart is the Christmas I'll really never forget.