Now that the day is here and the children are eagerly eyeing the presents under the tree, hoping that their every wish will be fulfilled, it’s time to stop and consider the true meaning of Christmas. It’s the kind of question Charlie Brown was asking. He didn’t find it in the pageant or in hunting for Christmas trees. Finally in desperation he cried out, begging for someone to give him an answer that made sense. It is at this point that
Both of the Bible’s Christmas stories speak of light shining in the darkness. During our journey through Advent we may have felt this darkness pressing in on us, and yet we’ve also heard promises each week about this light that will disperse the darkness and bring hope of a new beginning to our lives.
Yesterday we sang "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," and in the second verse we sang:
"O Come, thou Day-Spring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here,
disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and deaths deep shadows put to flight."
Now Matthew and Isaiah seem to have different things in mind. One speaks of a child to be born in the 8th Century B.C.E. whose birth will bring hope to the people of Judah – perhaps an heir to the throne. Matthew takes this passage from Isaiah and speaks to his own day. In both cases, however, the writers address the eternal longing we have to be in the presence of God. In this little child, Matthew says to us, God is present, and by receiving this child into our lives we will experience oneness with God.
2. THE MYSTERY OF THE INCARNATION
Too often we get caught up in the how of this passage and miss the point. If we focus on the science of whether a virgin can have a child, then we have lost sight of the mystery that is God.
Theologians speak of the incarnation – the idea that God is so completely present in a human being that when we see this child we can say – there is God. When we see him, we can know God intimately. Now theologians have been arguing about how this happens for the past 2000 years, but ultimately it is something we must receive as a mystery of God.
But that’s the point – for God to be revealed to us is a scandal – what some people call a scandal of particularity. It could have been different, but it has happened in this way. But whatever the case, when God is present, unsettling things happen. As William Willimon points out, "when God is with us, God is not with us in placid, nondisruptive ways. God's intrusions among us cause consternation and difficulty."2 And such is the case of this birth. It has caused great consternation.
And why must this revelation of God happen? The answer of scripture is simple – we have lost our way and we need someone to lead us back to God. For whatever reason, it is our belief that God has chosen this way – through a child – to point us back in the right direction. I think songwriter and poet Michael Card, gets it right:
He is no longer the calm and benevolent observer in the sky, the kindly old caricature with the beard. His image becomes that of Jesus, who wept and laughed, who fasted and feasted, and who above all, was fully present to those he loved. He was there with them. He is here with us.3
1. John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), 7.
2. William Willimon, "Unto Us a Child," in Pulpit Resource, 26 (Oct., Nov., Dec. 1998): 47.
3. Michael Card, "Immanuel," in Calvin Miller, ed. The Book of Jesus, (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 242.
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church
December 24, 2007