Oh, the magic and wonder that is the Christmas season. We went to a nearby village the other day for a tree lighting and fireworks, and my kids just had to traipse through the snow to get up close to the lights. There were thousands of them, and the awe was overpowering – especially for the preschoolers in the crowd (and me)! From lights, to haunting melodies, to legends of Santa, this time of year is always good on its promise to mystify.
However, when I read the Christmas story I am reminded that much of what we find mysterious was actually once quite familiar, and in much of what we find familiar lies the true Christmas mystery. Manger scenes, for example, are exclusively Christmas for us. A baby in a stable? That just doesn’t happen, not even in Wyoming! However, to be rejected from a hotel and forced to bed down in straw would have been a pretty normal experience for a 1st century traveler. I’m not saying a lot of babies were born in barns, I’m just saying it probably wouldn't be newsworthy enough for the Casper Star. While the legend is perpetuated that Jesus’ swaddling clothes were akin to the wrappings archeologists find on mummies, the historians tell us that they were merely strips of cloth that most all babies were wrapped in right after birth. So much of what is mysterious to us was commonplace for them. It is as though God sent his Son to meet with us in our most familiar environment. Indeed, it is exactly like that, and therein we find the true mystery of Christmas.
“’Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23). In the Old Testament, we read many stories of man encountering God, and it was always terrifying! In fact, God himself said in Exodus 33 “no man can see me and live!” We cannot reach God, and in order for God to reach us, something must change. He must come to us in a form that we can understand, that we can look upon, that we can touch (1 John 1:1), and so it came to pass, that out of his great love for us, God sent his one and only Son (John 3:16). “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He came. He came as one of us. He came in the approachable humility of the common man, at his place of work, celebrated only by other common men, in work clothes. God stepped out of omnipresence in order that he could be present. This is the heart and soul of the Christmas mystery.
Celebrate it well this week! God has come! Open your gifts with a view of the true Gift. Tell your Christmas stories centered on the first Christmas story. Enjoy your Christmas traditions, remembering that they exist because of a rich and ancient tradition that anticipates the redemption of mankind. Get lost in the mystery, remembering the greatest mystery of all, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).