The Strangely Mysterious Beauty of Christmas
I hope I never get used to Christmas. There’s a mysterious beauty to the season, a wild unexpectedness that I never want to lose sight of.
God came to earth. That’s enough to exclaim, “Wow!” But there’s so much more. God came, and the grandest announcement was given to the lowliest field-workers. Really? Magi came to worship Him. Magi? There’s a good chance they were Zoroastrian astrologers, of all things. And they followed a star there — a star that finally “came to rest” over a stable in Bethlehem. That’s very strange, you know. Stars don’t do that.
And angels don’t talk to people, as the story says they did with Mary and Joseph. Or if “angels,” do show up, we figure we’re suffering a delusion. And babies aren’t born of virgins, and above all God doesn’t let Himself be born as a baby. Especially one who came to be tortured and executed on purpose.
Not Your Ordinary Story
This is not your ordinary story. And yet it’s told in such an ordinary way! Here’s what I mean by that. Imagine you’d first heard the story being told to you by some spinner of tales, a story-teller who opened the story in his most dramatic stage voice: “Listen, my children. Listen and wonder! I have a story for you; you a grand and fabulous tale of a God coming to earth; of kings and camels traveling the lands to visit him; of stars and angel choirs and worship!”
Then read it the way Matthew and Luke actually wrote it down. They don’t go for the grand stage voice. They’re not trying to impress anyone with the way they tell the story. They just tell it. Matthew introduces his account, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” (Matt. 1:18) Sort of like I’d start out telling my wife about my day at work.
It wasn’t the story-tellers who made it such an out-of-the-ordinary story. It was God Himself.
The Strange Beauty of Christmas
The strangeness doesn’t make it untrue, though. Far from it. It couldn’t possibly have been an ordinary story; not when God Himself descends to earth to be born as a baby boy. All the extraordinary things that happened along with His coming fit perfectly with the amazing fact that He came.
It wouldn’t have been nearly as beautiful, either, without the angel choirs and all the rest. It wouldn’t even have been as beautiful if the angels had come and sung for the top dogs, the rich people, the religious and political leaders. Shepherds might seem like the least likely audience because they were the least honored people of the day; but now that that we have the whole story, we know it had to be that way. Nothing else would have been as good or as glorious.
But let’s not stop with just the unexpected events of the first Christmas. Jesus’ coming raises even deeper questions about truths that are even more unexpected.
Mystery Upon Mystery
If we’re really going to think about what Christmas means, we have to ask ourselves, How could such a spiritual God be so involved in such earthly things as your life and mine? How could He became a man Himself? Why would He? Yes, it’s because of His love; but then, why and how does He love us so?
The mystery continues: This Christmas baby grew up to walk dusty roads in a robe and sandals, to teach anyone who would listen, to be rejected by many others, to perform strange signs never seen before, and to make enemies who would kill him. And now 2,000 years later, all of human history, all of human destiny, and every person’s individual life hangs totally on this one now-ancient man.
If that doesn’t strike you as unexpected, maybe you’ve grown too accustomed to the story.
Keeping the Mystery Alive
But still the strangeness of it all doesn’t make it false, or even unlikely. For one thing we have enough supporting written evidence, archaeological support, and so on, to be able to safely conclude that it’s true.
For another thing, had the story been ordinary, dry, lacking in beauty — now, that would have made it unbelievable, for it’s impossible to think that God would come to earth in that way.
Part of the joy of Christmas is the annual return of familiar, joyful traditions. By all means enjoy them for all they’re worth. But this Christmas take time, too, to keep the season’s mystery alive in your heart and mind. That’s part of it, too. Christmas wouldn’t — indeed, couldn’t — be true without it. And it wouldn’t be anywhere near as beautiful, or as good.