Confessions, Contrasts, and Christmas
I think it is necessary to begin this piece with a confession: I really don’t like Christmas. It’s expensive, loud, and covered in glitter. These are a few of my least favorite things. All the classic holiday activities that make normal people light up (pun absolutely intended) have the opposite effect on me. My friends and wife regularly call me “Scrooge” and “Grinch.” If I’m entirely honest with you, I don’t even mind being called the second of those two names.
Frankly, I think pre-conversion Grinch had it right. He should have gathered all the other anti-Christmas Whos down in Whoville and staged a protest. Such a retelling couldn’t possibly have a worse ending than the current version does. As it stands, the story ends with the main character’s assimilation into a culture of mindless submission to silly rituals and the development of an enlarged heart. It’s not happy. It’s Orwellian.
It might surprise you then to learn that I’ve learned to look forward to this time of year. It’s not because I hate myself or because I particularly enjoy being miserable. I look forward to it in spite of the considerable stress that I’m sure shaves years off of my life because I love focusing on the Incarnation. We hear sermons about it. We sing songs about it. We read essays and articles about it. The subject is unavoidable and I enjoy every second of it. In the past five years, I don’t think I’ve even been able to sing “What Child is This” without crying.
I think the thing about the Incarnation that so powerfully captures my attention and imagination—and the reason I can’t sing a simple hymn without choking up—is the apparent contradiction of the whole affair. The Light chose to reside in the darkness of a womb. The Word was voluntarily made unable to form a sentence. Life made himself mortal. I still remember the first time I read Colossians 1:15-17 with purpose.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things and in him all things hold together.”
I’m sure I had heard or read it before, but suddenly it was jumping off of the page. I was captivated by what this passage said about the Incarnation. As Mary held Jesus, he held the cosmos together. The humility was unfathomable. If any sane human being were writing a story about a deity who sought to redeem humanity, they would never write this into the plot. It would be too outlandish. The Almighty making himself so vulnerable? Entrusting his physical care to a young woman he created? Preposterous. But that’s exactly what Christ did. I’m reminded of the first verse of “Come and Stand Amazed”:
“Come and Stand Amazed, you people,
See how God has reconciled.
See his plans of love accomplished.
See this gift, this newborn child.
See the Mighty, weak and tender.
See the Word who now is mute.
See the Sovereign without splendor.
See the Fullness destitute.”
And this incredible condescension—this lowering of himself to assume humanity—was not temporary. Christ, while absolutely exalted, retains his human body for eternity. Glorified, yes. But human still. At this very moment, a perfect, risen man intercedes on behalf of fallen humanity (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 4:14-16). He comforts us in our afflictions. He sympathizes with our weaknesses. He identifies with his people.
Fascinatingly, part of what amplifies my emotional reaction to the glorious truths of the Incarnation is my grumpiness around Christmas. The eternal Son suffered humiliation, was rejected by the people he created, was put to death, and now pleads even for me. In all of my cantankerousness, in all of my frustration and discontent, Christ loves me still. And it warms my often-cold heart. So, I suppose, it is fitting that I end this short piece with another confession: I really love Christmas.
Add it to the pile of beautiful contrasts found in the Incarnation.