The Strangely Mysterious Beauty of Christmas

By Tom Gilson Published on December 13, 2017

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.

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  • eddiestardust

    The Star of Bethlehem
    Quote from the book “The Star of Bethlehem” by Astronomer David Hughes, Copyright 1979 by David Hughes. Pocket Books, a Simon & Schuster division of Gulf & Western Corp, NY, NY.
    The vision of The Venerable Maria de Agreda, Abbess of the order of St Francis in Spain:

    “At that time the angel who was sent to them [the Magi] from the stable at Bethlehem created in [or “out of “] the air, by the power of God, a star of peculiar splendor, not so great however as those of the firmament, for this star was fixed, not in the sky, but in the lower air, in order to guide the Kings to the stable at Bethlehem. This star was of great splendor, different from that of the Sun and stars.
    With its charming light it illuminated the night like a torch. When they started off from their homes, they all saw the star, although they started from different places. For it was so elevated and such a distance that all three could see it. After they had left their homes they soon met together and the star was lowered in the air and shone close to them…They went where the star guided them and when they arrived in Jerusalem (reasoning that there in the capital city the King of Judea would be born), the star disappeared from their sight….When the Kings set out from Jerusalem, the star appeared in front of them again and led them to Bethlehem where it stopped. Then having come down a little and diminishing [in size and brightness] it went into the cave or stable and diminished more and more slowly, it came to rest over the head of the Divine Child, surrounded it with a marvelous light and finally disappeared.”

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