I had made the children rag dolls that year. Clown-faced Toby for our son, flaxen-haired Miranda for our daughter. In the very early eighties, the floppy toys became my hand-stitched rebellion against the creeping Cabbage Patch craze. The Patch kids cost thirty bucks to adopt. I’d used remnants and cut apart clothing to make my children’s dolls. They cost me nothing. Only love. Sleep. A few finger pricks.
But the morning after the Christmas banquets, the Christmas concerts, the Christmas carolling and the Christmas Eve service – on Christmas morning, we all woke up sick. Woof-your-cookies kind of sick. So sick we couldn’t even clean each other up. We were our own miserable islands, every person in the parsonage, from the Preacher down to the littlest preacher’s kid, just past two.
Mid-morning, we managed to leave our beds and haul ourselves to the living room. We stayed barely long enough to claw open our gifts. Then, by unspoken mutual consent and desperate need, we crawled back to bed, each child dragging a doll.
Toby and Miranda remained faithful companions for years. I have since realized the worth of every midnight stitch. Unlike the passing pleasures of the pre-Christmas season, those homemade gifts, made loosely in the image of our children, came to them when needed most – and stayed with them during their worst.
I didn’t think of it at the time, but the rag dolls remind me of Jesus. In Matthew 1:23 the angel Gabriel reminds Joseph, already engaged to Mary, what the prophet Isaiah had predicted about the coming Messiah centuries before: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”). With us. You. Me.
Many people speak of God as a being who is “somewhere out there,” or “watching from a distance.” Far fewer know God as a Loving Father who keeps us company. A Creator God who connects deeply with our humanity, who never leaves our side. A Saviour God who loved us enough to send his only Son to redeem us. A Restoring God who embraces us when we’re messed up and miserable, broken or sin-sick. A Forgiving God who hears our repentant cry and restores our soul. A Powerful God who enables us to accomplish what we never could on our own. A Faithful God who is with us always, even to the end.
That kind of God deserves consideration.
In Jesus Christ, that’s exactly the picture of God we see. Immanuel. God with us. In bed with us. How fitting to journey through Advent with a rag-doll’s reminder of why and who we celebrate.
The stirring song Emmanuel opens one of my favourite Christmas CD’s ….take a moment to listen.