Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Day

(This is the last of a set of daily Advent meditations I'll be posting. They're going up a day early so that you can use them, if you wish, for private reflection in this season of anticipation and preparation.)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
-John 1:1-14

There comes a point, in every telling of Christmas, when the words must run out. After all, we are trying with those feeble syllables to grasp at something beyond us – the Word Himself, John tells us, the Word that spoke creation, entering the world He had made. The poet moving into the verse. The painter stepping onto the canvas. While we can seek to expound on that, it stands as a mystery and miracle whose outer edges we can only begin to grasp.

The shepherds come and wonder. The wise men come and wonder. Mary and Joseph wonder. We must do the same.

John, in these verses, seems to me lost in wonder. He is not writing a theological treatise on the incarnation, although of course it contains much fodder for the theologians. He is not writing a metaphysical explanation of it. He proclaims them as bare-faced wonders. “The Word was God... All things were made through Him... the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

While we are called to apply the Christmas story, to live in light of it, and even in a sense to enact it in our lives, this is not a good idea. It is not a moral vision. It is a statement of face, of the Reality behind reality transforming reality by entering it. “What shall we do for Christmas?” We ask. John's answer: “Jesus Christ has come.”

So before and after the words, before and after the meditations on Christ's return and our calling, come sit by the manger. Come see the child who, were His divinity unveiled, would make the mountains melt like wax. Let His fragile little fingers grasp your thumb, run your hands over His toothless gums, and realize that this is God Himself come into our midst.

This is not a truth that should make us cheerful or sentimental or speculative or even inspired. This is the Truth, and before Him the only adequate response is slack-jawed wonder. Come and praise this coming King. Behold the light shining in the darkness. Come and know Him and receive Him. Come and become children of this God.

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future's
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.
-U.A. Fanthorpe, BC:AD

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