Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Mystery of Christmas - Where Is the Child?

Some are offended by the suggestion that there is "mystery" in Christmas. They hold onto the truth of the coming of God to earth - the reality of Emmanuel - with their very lives, and to suggest that this truth encompasses "mystery" somehow suggests that the Christmas story may be less than true. It is as if they have grown beyond any mystery in Christmas. A child born of a virgin is simply true. An inexplicable star needs no explanation beyond God's plan.

And I agree with them, as far as the truth of the story goes. I believe in that virgin birth. I do not believe the Magi's star was a supernova or a comet - I just believe it was God's miraculous sign. And I too hold on to the reality of Emmanuel with my very life.

But I still find mystery in the story, not in a scary or demeaning sense but rather in the idea of challenge, of complexity beyond my ken, of seeing through a glass darkly. After all, we walk by faith, not by sight. Maybe a better way to phrase it is to talk about the "questions" of Christmas. I hope that, in holding onto the truth of the gospel found in the events of the narrative and the reality of shepherds and angels, we do not stop ourselves from asking natural questions.

There is, of course, a completely different side of the coin. For some of you readers, the Christmas story is so commercialized, or so fairy-tale, or simply so unbelievable that you choose not to ask any questions that might actually lead down a road of faith.

We all (from the most churchgoing among us to those of you who never darken a church door) know the Christmas story well, from the word going out from Caesar Augustus to the days being "accomplished that she should be delivered" to the swaddling clothes to the heavenly host to the flight to Egypt to Mary keeping all of these things in her heart. Some have trouble coming up with any questions about it beyond “What Child is This?” and “Do You Hear What I Hear?” After that, our questions of Christmas most likely are wondering which of the twelve days has those leaping lords and who in the world are Jeannette and Isabella?

To me, "mystery" is not a bad word - it is a recognition of the supernatural that cannot be fully comprehended by us humans. And when we cannot think of the questions, we have bypassed the mystery. We have wandered without a guiding star and grown too old to remember the glow of Decembers past when the child in us asked about mangers and shepherds and wondered about gold and frankincense and myrrh.

And therein is the key - we have grown too old, or too jaded, or too cocksure, or too uninterested, or too busy. We need, for a moment or an hour or a season, to reverse that growth process and find a child within us.

We need to find a child within us so that we can once again open our eyes to the wonderful mysteries of which we sing this season, lest we lose all the happiness of caroling. It is the child within us who wonders why the Christ child has not even a cradle in which to rock or a soft pillow for His head. That our Savior, Shepherd, and King could come with a mission to die and become our brother, lamb, and servant is a puzzle around a mystery wrapped in a question.

We need to find a child within us to ask “Why Joseph? Why Bethlehem? Why Mary? Why trust such an apparently ordinary girl with the One who would walk on water and deliver us all?” We would have thought that God would come with kingly crowns and a regal throne. If we take the time to ask the questions, we shrug our collective shoulders and scratch our heads - after all, to us, this is such a strange way to save the world. Where is His splendor?

We are not going to provide, nor can we find for ourselves, all of the answers. Trying to understand fully all the aspects of the loving gifts of the God of the rainbow and of the manger is like trying to capture the wind on the water or measure a mother's love. The questions lead us to more questions. Yet, somehow, although we do not understand it, God's coming down to Bethlehem turns December to May and transforms a chilly morning to a smiling field ready for harvest.

But I think we have to ask the questions. We ask not to demonstrate any lack of faith or to explain that the story is less than real. Instead, we ask because we have to find the child inside, to get past the old traditions and the adult rush and the grownup's too-quick and too-simple answers. We ask the questions to see the mystery and to wait with faith to hear the angels still singing their song. Where is that child? How do we find a child within us?

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.

To find a child in you, I think you must find the child in you. When you let that child's peace find you, you once again see the mystery, share the wonder of the ringing bells, and, with the angels, sing “Alleluia” to our king in the silent night.

While we cannot answer all of the questions, with the faith of that child we can answer the question “Where is the child?”. He is with us. That is the reality of Emmanuel, one I do not question. He is our Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God, our Everlasting Father, our Prince of Peace. To those who are asking, "Where is the child?", let us tell the story of the Jesus child. The One who brings us light. Our Savior and brother the same. Our heavenly king. The Savior of all. Surely this must be God's Son.

Gloria in excelsis!

1 comment:

Charlie Johnson said...

I could not agree with you more about these thoughts, Lyn. The story of Christmas is mystical and magical (a word that gets me into trouble sometimes) because they are true, and make us truer. Why do we think something cannot be true unless it is observable or reduplicatable?

Man, you are a good writer. Thanks for taking the time to share with us.

Charlie