What can be said about Christmas, about the Nativity of Jesus Christ, that has not already been said? Is there an angle that has not yet been tried? An avenue not yet taken? Probably not. Yet, our celebration of the season is far from trite and our capability to engage with it still fresh.
While each year’s celebration brings with it new dynamics for ourselves and for our families, the real reason for this is that, at Christmastime, we delve into the sheer mystery that is the Incarnation. Though we hear the story over and over—have read it, been preached it, seen it depicted year after year—we have a continuing and unsated curiosity at how it came to be that the Virgin Mary bore a child, conceived in her by the Holy Spirit, who is God.
By now we are all so familiar with seeing this image immortalized in the myriad of nativity scenes that have become part of our tradition. We see them in front of lawns and churches and may even have them in our own homes. We contemplate this miracle of miracles, adoring the infant as did the shepherds and the wise men. But has this imagery, in its statuesque idealism become banal? Has it become so all-important to our celebration that it has overshadowed other meaning? In our constant recreating and recreating, are we hoping to be moved, but missing what is really engaging? And, through all of this, are we going through the motions, or is our Christmas joy as authentic as it was on that first Christmas?
Maybe these questions are not yours. They are mine though, and I think the answer to them can be found in meditating on a simple word that is at the heart of all this: the Incarnation.
In speaking about Christmas, we often use the word “nativity,” and rightly so, as that means “birth,” but that word alone fails to capture the awesome reality that the One being born was not just anyone, but God. God made flesh. God made man. God incarnate. A God not being housed in a temple, transported with an Ark, or depicted as a statue, but a human God who breathes, who bleeds, with a heartbeat, with a family, with human frailty, and with human feeling. A God with us who has become like us in order to save us and make us like Him.
When I think of God in this light, I cannot help but be moved. I cannot help but be thankful and overwhelmed, filled with wonder and a new understanding of the depths of God’s love and the breadth of His mercy. This is not just the delicate infant that needs our care and whom we blithely adore. This is a God who adores us, who cares for us, who showers us with gifts despite our unworthiness.
He is a God that that has made the ultimate sacrifice for us, who cannot fail us even though we have failed Him time and time again. He uniquely crafts each one of us, gives us all we require, and helps us to find our way in a world no less broken by sin than the one into which He was born. He even gives us the gift of faith to come to this understanding when our human sense of logic tells us otherwise.
This is a God that is not bound to a single image or snapshot in history, but a Living God, who is ever-present and whom we worship not just for what He has done, but for what He will do. The Virgin Birth is just the beginning of the turning point in Salvation History, that is, the chronicling of the the fall of mankind through the sin of Adam and Eve, the fulfillment of redemption through the person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and our ever-continuing struggle with sin and temptation until He comes again.
Given that this year has also been declared the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we must, more than ever, ruminate over this, considering the gravity of the great mystery of the Incarnation within the context of God’s mercy and saving grace. Jesus, who is Lord, Savior, and Redeemer, is at the center of it all, and the true meaning of Christmas is not so much concerned with the adoration of the infant Christ in history; rather, it is about the looking forward to the unknown date and time of His glorious return.
Advent is our metaphor for the end times in which we live, a time of darkness when we await longingly and with expectant joy for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world and the once-and-for-all conqueror of sin and death. Christmastime, then, becomes a beacon of hope and its celebration a precursor to the peaceful eternity of the New Heaven and New Earth that the Second Coming will bring. This new era will be marked specifically by the mercy of God, who, through Christ as the Just Judge, will bear final judgement on his people, but who will also “wipe every tear from their eyes” and bring about at time with “no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Rev. 21:4).
Through these considerations, we are better able to experience Christmas as it is meant, appreciate Jesus in his fullness, and understand the Incarnation for the awesome truth it conveys. This is especially so for those of us for whom this time of year is particularly difficult, and for whom the usual temporal festivities have become a source of pain or distraction. Whether this is a joyful time, a sad time, or a combination of both, we can arrive at this meaning only through the help of God’s grace and His gifts of hope, love, joy, and peace.
Through these, we can internalize the Truth that God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, became man. He, the King of the Universe, was born of a virgin in the most humble of conditions and for no other reason than that He could call us to Himself again and save us from our utter sinfulness through His profound mercy. May that mercy and the unfailing love of God bless you and yours in this most joyful of seasons. Amen.