I’ve always felt that the simplicity of the Nativity story in Scripture was a testament to its veracity. It’s a simple story because it’s a true story.
Joseph and Mary (his very pregnant wife) travel to Bethlehem in order to be counted in the Roman Census. They need a place to stay but “there was no room for them in the inn.” Instead, they are offered a barn, some hay, and a manger—which turns out to be all you need to bring a baby into the world. That night, under the glow of that special star, the baby Jesus would be born. He is Christ, the Lord.
The truth isn’t complicated. But sometimes it isn’t so readily apparent.
It’s been a reflective past few months for me, starting that day in September when I learned that my friend from high school had died in a motorcycle accident. Carl’s death brought me back in touch with the friends of my youth, guys I haven’t seen in years—even decades. How can it be that so much time has passed by so quickly?
Add to this the milestone events that are approaching in my life in this new year—one daughter about to graduate from college, another planning to be married, my 50th birthday coming this April—all of these things have caused me to think back on how fast time has gone by.
I mean, really, how can one of my kids, my oldest, just born yesterday it seems, be married and on her own today?
Put it all together and it leaves me questioning as to what kind of crazy, wormhole, time-warp thing I must have stepped into.
That’s no wormhole, of course, that’s just life. My nearly 50 years on this planet has been lived like everyone else’s: one day at a time. (Over 18,000 days total thus far.)
No, the truth isn’t complicated. Time is relentless in its movement. It waits for no one. Not even me.
As I just noted, one positive that’s come from the death of my friend is that his viewing and funeral brought about a reconnection with a past I had long left behind. Cell numbers were exchanged. Text messages sent. A date confirmed. A location established.
And so it was that Laura and I found ourselves walking into a Mexican restaurant two days after Christmas in order to meet up with the guys from the neighborhood where I had grown up during the 1970s and the early 80s.
I had no idea what to expect (or who to expect) as we moved through the front door. I had thought about those who could possibly be there. There were five “core” families in our neighborhood, five families with kids that lived there from our early elementary years until we all graduated high school.
Those five families each had two boys (the age range from the oldest to the youngest wasn’t more than four years or so) for a total of 10, 10 boys who spent over a decade together doing anything and everything you can imagine.
Carl, the oldest of our group, was now gone. That left nine of us. Who could I expect to meet at dinner? Who would take the time to stop and visit with people you hadn’t seen in a lifetime?
All nine of us were there.
The truth isn’t complicated, but sometimes it isn't so readily apparent.
As we shared story after story (confirming to my wife, in meticulous detail, so many things I had told her over the years) I was overwhelmed with both joy and sadness.
The joy was in recognizing how great a childhood we’d had together.
There’s no doubt that we grew up in the best place on earth. We had ball fields, basketball courts, and easy access (via bicycle) to fast-food joints, convenience stores, miniature golf and an arcade.
Yet we also had lots of woods, miles of trails, ponds, and this place we called “pipe city” (which is another subject entirely). It was the perfect place. Each story shared that night confirmed just how blessed we had been as kids.
The sadness I felt was over the loss of it all. Not that I wanted to go back in time and be 10 years old again, but that I so quickly let go of those places and friends and then ignored them for so long—because that is exactly what I had done.
I grieve over the fact that I chose to lose contact with them (including my own brother) as soon as I graduated from high school. I had put my friends to the side (for various reasons, none of them good) and moved on with life.
Fast forward 30+ years and Carl’s death is the harsh reality, the sobering reminder that there’s no going back, and that I would never be able to sit down with him over a beer and simply catch up on everything I had chosen to miss.
As the nine of us (plus a few spouses and, not insignificantly, the father of one of the sets of boys) made the effort to catch up on everything there in the Mexican restaurant that night, I began to see just how much I had missed of their lives and how much I’ve missed them—these men who were once boys, boys who were a daily part of my life for so many years.
The truth isn’t complicated. After a while even I come to understand it.
For my brother and me, and for our other siblings (which included two sisters and a much younger baby brother who wasn’t a part of our group but sure wanted to be), our home life wasn’t the best.
Divorce, poverty, dysfunction. Pretty cutting edge stuff for the 1970s, I suppose, but pretty awful to grow up in. The truth was, my brother and I needed those other guys from the neighborhood. God knew we needed them. He knew I needed them.
I realize now that those boys were my brothers as much as they were my friends. Yes, they were my brothers, and I had spent as much time with them as I did my own brother, Mitch.
Ever since Carl’s death, it’s been impossible not to think back and remember the games we played, the forts we built, the winters on the ice, the summers in the woods, the time we spent together.
These were things that I had stored away in my mind like Christmas decorations in January. These were things that still mattered to me, but things that I had left alone for too long.
After listening to the friends of my youth talk about how important, how special, how amazing, those years were, I finally recognized the truth. I saw just how much it mattered to them. All along I had thought maybe it was just me.
No, the truth isn’t complicated. The Lord had given all of us what we needed when He put us in that same neighborhood south of Sand Point Road and east of Ardmore Avenue.
The truth is, God was at work there in our neighborhood (even though we, and definitely I, didn’t know it) and today He works even still.
Yes, the truth is, the Lord still works. He’s teaching me to see the bigger picture, to see how much people matter and, in fact, when it comes down to it, He’s showing me that only people matter.
And He has shown me this: because of Jesus, because of this baby born of Mary, because of His mercy, forgiveness and grace, because of His death and resurrection, one day I will sit down with Carl, I will have that beer with him (Of course there’s beer in heaven. That’s why it’s called heaven.) and we will talk about things, just like the nine of us did at dinner the other night.
That will be a great day, and a great time. Carl and I will catch up with each other, sharing simple stories of the families God had given us, of the fun we had when we were kids, and of faith in Jesus, saving faith that brings us into a place even better than where we grew up.
Yes, the truth of God’s love in Jesus isn’t complicated. And there in eternity, there in the presence of Christ, the truth will be readily apparent for all to see.