To get our hearts ready for Christ’s birth, Ann Voskamp is writing for us, celebrating the holiday that’s all about Jesus. Join us as we anticipate the coming of our savior.
I walk out of a Christian women’s conference in mid-December and step oblivious right over a cross.
I’m a woman rock hard and blind.
A woman who forgets her own face, oblivious to the appalling miracle of rain that becomes wheat, bread in the mouth that becomes grace in the veins.
Of God taking my place when my sins are that I keep taking His, and honestly, I would have just kept walking straight on into the dark coming on and never looked back.
We are headed to the car—we have places to go and there are roads that lead away and I have no idea why we think that the Way that got us here isn’t always The Way.
I don’t even remember which one of us pauses there in the parking lot and murmurs it into the dusk:
“Oh—someone has lost their cross.” I hadn’t thought it was me.
I mean, I had never seen that cross before, the one lying on the pummelled gravel, the gravel all punched out by wheels spinning and leaving and moving on. It’s lying there next to a puddle, a black cross, the forgotten remnant of a key chain.
I did linger—because I had felt it, something in me lunging to reach out, wipe off the cross’s muddied surface, clasp it. I had felt it, the recognition, like noticing your family name scrawled across a scrap, then the longing, the belonging.
I had almost knelt down.
Had almost claimed it as my own.
Almost let it take hold of me.
But did I really need a little homeless, dirty cross?
I had a few necklaces with crosses—I was wearing one.
I had come to the cross way back there already, laid my burden down. Yes, I say the Cross is the crux of my life—but do I really need to rescue this specific lost cross from a mud puddle?
I had considered it—for a moment—and then turned. Walked into shadows.
Sunday morning finds me in the Church of Brook Hills.
Walking into the church, I mumble awkward that I’ve left my Bible in the vehicle, joke that I’m the heathen walking into church without her Bible and Robin laughs that she’d like to see me finally get saved.
We find a seat and David Platt is in jeans on the platform.
His book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream is at home, dog-eared and in the Bible-box because we’ve read it as a family after meals, after Scripture, and we’d swallowed it down, the stuff that gets caught in your gullet and won’t let you go.
There are pictures of the poor and needy hanging everywhere in this church, faces from the deep south, a slum in Africa, a run down tenement from around the corner.
I am sitting beside Kristen, a real-life Radical who’s picked up these poor and they’ve got a hold of her and they are holding her close to Jesus and from the platform he says it, words he says are for already believers, the already claimed ones,
“Your only hope for joy, your only hope for peace, your only hope for comfort, your only hope for strength and your only hope for love in this life—is found in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Your only hope in this life is found in the brutal, bloody, humiliation of a naked man on a wooden post.
My hope is that you go out of this building clinging to the cross of Christ.”
And I can feel it, like it was gutted out of me, the black carved emptiness of that lost thing I left back in a parking lot outside a stadium on my way out of a Christian women’s conference just before Christmas.
That cross I said didn’t really need right then, not the muddied one, the ugly one, the one that will mean my hands will have to get dirty.
The cross I say I’ve already once came to, been there, done that, asked for the forgiveness of sins, and then carried on, out into my life, that one time work of saving and redemption and justification all neatly wrapped up and finished up and done. And it is finished and Christ finished it but I am never finished with the cross—
I need a Cross-Centered life if I am going to live the Christ-Filled life and how do I get back to that parking lot and never move on and kneel right down and cling to it for all I’m worth?
David Platt’s saying that this Cross is the sign of God’s affection for us, that we need the Cross daily because how else can we die daily?
I know—we need a place of execution in our lives if we’re ever to rightly execute a life of faith.
And I know my life needs an axle on which to turn and my Christmas needs to be cross-centered …
If my life isn’t cross-centered, my life is off-centered, and the warping spin leaves me sick.
My life needs centrifaith force and the centrality of the cross is the force that holds together my universe and Grace is my gravity and the Cross is my cosmos.
If everything in my world’s spinning out of control, is it because I’ve lost the centrality of the cross?
A Tree needs to stand certain at the center of Christmas.
The worship team is playing music quietly. Dr. Platt invites anyone who needs to come to the cross again, to cling to the cross, to come again …
And it’s only after the service is over, after one stream of people have flowed out and folks are trickling in for the next service, just before we need to leave, that I say it aloud to Robin, Kristen, Molly —-
“Can I just have a minute? I just have to … I have to touch that cross.”
I need to find what I didn’t even know I’d lost.
There’s a cross at the front of the sanctuary and I don’t care how many people are milling about and this time I kneel right down and this Christmas that we celebrate, this is the Winter Passion, the white hot burn of His love.
I look up at the cross. And I can feel it in my heart, the white hot burn of His love, and it heats me right through, liquifies everything hard, and my love leaks slow and then it comes in waves, and I am overtaken, surprised, the shoulders shuddering, the sobs spilling, spilling. And I am the woman who needs saving from herself again, again, everyday—the dirty that needs to be wiped clean everyday, the hands that need a cross to wrap a life right around so she won’t get lost.
“I will cling. I will let go of everything else and I will cling to You and I won’t let go.”
The words slip off the tongue, a whisper, everything else sliding tears straight down and my hand’s pressing into the wood of that cross. I’m touching it and this is how God signs His Love to a loud and deaf world: He signs His love in this cross, His love to a world with wounds of it’s own. My shoulders keep heaving. He knows—He knows. And in love, He won’t leave us alone—and I’m not letting go of this Cross.
The cross, intersection of His love and my need, beam that supports the whole of a real life. The cross, the tree on which God hung Grace, the Light of the world, the only Star that shattered all my dark. I’m bent and cracked before a cross a few weeks before Christmas.
And if there is no cross in my Christmas, then my Christmas has lost Christ, and what is the manger if it not for the Messiah, the one who saves us with the scars?
This Babe who lays in a wooden manger, who came to lie on a wooden Cross, He is healing all wounds …
When we walk out of the church, the air’s turned cold. Bitter.
The blast of all the wind of this world, it hits us hard.
I walk across the parking lot toward the car.
And I’m fingering along my silver necklace to hold on to it, to feel it again, the very center of the Cosmos, the center of Christmas that I cannot lose …
This white hot love of His cross. This warming of everything cold …
Ann Voskamp is a farmer’s wife, the home-educating mama to a half-dozen exuberant kids, and author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, a New York Times bestseller, and new this month, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. Named by Christianity Today as one of 50 women most shaping culture and the church today, she’s a writer for DaySpring, a speaker with Women of Faith, and a global advocate for needy children with Compassion International. Ann loses library books, usually has a sink full of soaking pots, and sees empty laundry baskets rarer than a blue moon.