By Jeremy Grossman
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
The path of destruction was clear. It was as though a great malevolent hurricane had descended upon the little town of Bethlehem, but this hurricane had four paws and a shaggy tail. The destruction was almost too much to behold. Joseph’s head was a distorted, chewed mass. A shepherd’s arm was mangled, and never again would he hold his crook to gather in the little lambs. Even one of the wise Magi, perhaps Melchior, looked anything but wise as he lay prostrate on the floor. But worst of all, horrible beyond horrible, the Christ Child Himself—Baby Jesus, manger and all—was missing and presumed devoured.
The entire wax Nativity set, made and given to my parents (I was visiting for Christmas) by some industrious beekeeping relatives and once a thing of beauty, now more closely resembled a jumble of candle stubs and broken crayons instead of the Holy Family and its well-wishers. Assessing what happened only took nanoseconds, especially since the culprit still lurked guiltily in the corner.
“MAISY!!” I bellowed. Maisy, my ten-week old puppy of the border collie persuasion, immediately admitted her guilt by promptly wetting the carpet at the sound of my angry voice. This, of course, made me even angrier, and I quickly scanned for a newspaper or magazine that could be rolled into an impromptu whacking stick. Finding none, I shouted again, “Maisy! Come here!”
A mass of black and white fluff scooted hesitantly toward me. I was so angry. Why had she done this? What was wrong with her? Why did she have to be so stupid? I didn’t know how I was going to punish her, but I could guarantee that it would be swift and severe.
But the Hand of Retribution was stayed—it was her eyes. Those big pools of lively chocolate were now a direct portal to a tortured, anguished soul. The more I looked into her eyes, the more they seemed to say, “I’m sorry, Master. I don’t want to be bad, but sometimes I can’t help myself. I’d like to be good if you’ll help me. Please say you still love me.”
The irony of the situation was not lost on me. Christmas, after all, was the answer to a similar plea from the human collective: “We’re sorry, Master. We don’t want to be bad, but sometimes we can’t help ourselves. We’d like to be good if You’ll help us. Please say You still love us.”
Psalm 80 captures that plea. The song is a cry for restoration, even fearing God’s anger—not completely unlike a mischievous puppy who just couldn’t help herself: “O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?...Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80:4, 7 NRSV). Since the very beginning we’ve needed God. We’ve needed God to restore us from our Brokenness, our Hollowness, our Hurt, our Loneliness, and our Need. God heard our prayers, our anguish, our cries—God always knew. God gave us the path to Ultimate Restoration in the birth of Christ. God gave us Christmas so that we might be Forever Forgiven. And through Christ, through Christmas, God also gave us the model for how to treat others, how to love. God showed us what Love truly is so that we might also show it to others…to His people, to our neighbors, to our communities, to those different from us. We can even show love and restoration to the occasionally naughty puppy.
In perspective, Maisy had only destroyed a replica; Christmas itself, and all that it represents, cannot be destroyed. Once I remembered this and calmed down, I was ashamed of my anger. I plopped down on the couch and found myself with roles reversed—now I was in the position of begging forgiveness. Thankfully, a few quick caresses from a warm pink tongue assured me that just like in a small stable on a starry night two thousand years ago, forgiveness is readily given by those who love.
Trinity Advent Devotional
Welcome to Advent, 2020, a season like no other. These readings, throughout the Advent season, have all been written by staff and members of Trinity. We hope you’ll enjoy the opportunity to get to know one another better through these prayers, devotions and stories. Even in this challenging time, we celebrate this opportunity to grow in love and service through our relationships with God and with one another.