Whenever I’m around books, I feel alive. Here’s how I’m going to quantify that statement: whenever - meaning at any time, in any place - I’m around books - that’s plural, meaning books in large groups, like in libraries or book shops or even on someone’s bookshelves - I feel alive. I quite literally feel my heart beat a little faster and my whole sense of self seems - go with me here - justified. If that doesn’t make sense, then perhaps this will: books make me feel more like me. When I’m around books, I feel like I’m home. The way they smell, the sound the subtle turning of pages makes, the feel of a well-bound volume in hand - these things mean something to me. When my children and I strolled into a clothing boutique the other day and there were books used in their displays, I winced. Books, in my mind, ought to be read and then shelved - alphabetically - to be cherished, lingered over, revisited. Period. They speak a language (no pun intended) by their very existence that can’t be understood unless you are, well, a ‘book person’ (which only true book people will find to be a totally flattering descriptor).
I sequestered myself, even as a very little girl, in bathrooms and closets and underneath beds just so that I could get away from the world and read. I even read when I couldn’t read, making up stories while pretending to follow along with my fingers on the page. I cherish those memories because they make sense of who I am now; they point to why I am who I am now and give me purpose and meaning. They - as I said before - justify me.
And therein lies the problem. When I walk into antique bookstores or old world university libraries and literally feel tears welling up in my eyes, something is clearly happening. I’m worshipping. I’m standing in my church, adoring what I need to feel wholly alive.
We live in an increasingly cynical age, an age in which most people find the idea of worship - especially at such a time as Christmas - to be, at best, charmingly simple or, at worst, dangerously ignorant. After all, churchgoers were quite recently shot by a man who deemed such people to be idiots.
But in reality, we’re all worshippers. You may not sit in a church pew each week, offering your allegiance to God almighty, but trust me: you’re a worshipper. We were designed to worship. That’s evident by how hard we all chase our individual idols. I once heard that the best way to determine what you worship is to ask what you couldn’t live without. It’s a tough question. Many people would say their families. Their children, their spouses, their parents. How can those things be bad?
The answer is, of course, that they’re not. In fact, they’re deeply good - they’re the best! But God gives us these ‘best’ things - romance and marriage, sex, parenting, friendship, good food, deep conversation… yes, even books - as first tastes of something greater: Himself. When I stand in a bookstore and breathe in the smell of ink and paper and just feel good, I have to step back and remind myself that that feeling isn’t the thing I’m after - instead, what I want is the Creator of that feeling. And in my pursuit of Him, I don’t relinquish that feeling - not at all! - but rather experience it more fully and richly. It’s in this God-centered worship that everything else falls into its rightful place: including me. After all, I’ve always been inclined to see my love of books as a way of loving myself; that’s probably quite evident even in this little essay. Go back and read that first paragraph up there. You’ll find a whole lot of ‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘my.’ That’s not a coincidence. What we worship says a lot about us - and when you get right down to it, we’ll worship just about anything that puts us at the center of the praise.
Christmas is supposedly about worshipping God incarnate, a God who dwelled in flesh out of a desire to rescue His creation - but more often than not, we’re as disinclined to worship God when surrounded by snowflakes and tinsel as we are at any other moment.
So what’s the point? If Christmas can’t make true worshippers out of us, then isn’t it a foregone conclusion that nothing can? Maybe. But God’s great news for those who will listen and hear is actually based on that premise: nothing - no amount of praying or Bible-reading or harmonizing in the church choir, no amount of anything - can actually change us. The only way we’ll ever worship rightly is by first acknowledging that we can’t.
The message of Jesus’s birth is simple: God deserves our utter and complete commitment to His glory first. But He knows - He’s always known - that we can’t give that. Even our best attempts at truly worshipping the King of Kings are laced with self-righteousness: our moves to relinquish the thrones of our own hearts are usually done with the crown hidden behind our backs. But God, utterly unlike a usurping warrior, entered human history as a mewling infant, clothed in weakness, and offers us each a crown more tremendous than any our own self-aggrandizing hands can create.
Christmas celebrates the fact that a King came to claim His rightful throne, and He did so without military might or political power. He owned no home, made no waves in the business world, never gained any admiration for His physical features. He was a nobody, a nothing, from a backwater town in a backwater country. And yet - it is to Him that we owe our allegiance. After all, He is the once and future King. He is the Boy who lived - and the Man who died. He is the Hero who defeated death, and spoke into a thousand stories the hope that such a defeat is possible. He is the Lion in the wardrobe, the Ranger from the north; He is Atticus Finch in the courtroom and Sydney Carton at the guillotine. May I never forget: it is, in the end, always His story that I love to read, over and over again, and it is the sound of His voice that speaks to me in the pages.