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The Mystery of Christmas

December 20, 2010

Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year.

Yes, I like the gifts, the time with family and friends, holiday lights, wreaths, garland, stockings all hung in a row and saccharine Christmas music. That’s not, however, what makes Christmas my favorite holiday.

At the risk of sounding super-spiritual, Christmas is my favorite holiday because its major point of emphasis is on the incarnation of God in Christ.

In the study of theology you see all kinds of efforts to explain God. I’ve often said that working towards a graduate degree in theology can be a soul crushing experience because it’s easy to take the mystery and wonder of out of the divine and make the pursuit of him an academic endeavor. Throughout the course of my studies, I’ve fallen into that trap and had to remind myself that God, among many other things, is mystery beyond my comprehension and explanation.

In theological notion is the mystery of God clearer to me than in His incarnation in Christ, his choice to enter the flesh of humanity. Despite my cynicism and, at times, lack of faith, there is something about the profane, scandalous absurd and wonderful idea that God would step out of his kingdom and into the mess of humanity that fills me with awe and wonder.

Frederick Buechner, an American writer and theologian, in writing about this same wondrous truth, describes the birth of Christ as, “a kind of vast joke whereby the creator of the ends of earth comes among us in diapers. ’A Stumbling block to Jews and folly to the gentiles,’ Paul called it in his letter to the Corinthians, and until we too have taken the idea of the God-man seriously enough to be scandalized by it, we have not taken it as seriously as it demands to be taken” (The Faces of Christ, 60-61).

Though we commonly associate the cross as the highest moment of surrender and servitude in the life of Christ, the birth of Jesus, too, should make us keenly aware of the servant nature of our King as, in it, “[God] has given us the power one way or another to destroy him, if that is our pleasure” (62).

Just over three decades separated the manger from the cross, from the two moments of absolute weakness and surrender by the Lord Jesus, first in birth and then in death. Yet, between those two moments that so dominate our church’s liturgical calendar, is the full life of a man… a real man, not just God dressed up in a man suit, but someone just as real as you and me, containing also the full substance and character of God.

In these final days of advent, as we prepare for the coming of our Lord, we call to mind the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who summed up the meaning of Christmas with these words:

“God is not remote from us, unknown, enigmatic or perhaps dangerous. God is close to us, so close that he makes himself a child and we can informally address this God.”

God Bless and Merry Christmas.

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