The sky was iridescent orange, with streaks of pink, and yellow, and deep purple underscoring it all. Our lonely mountain stood right in the middle of it, solid and unchanging in the midst of the fading sunset. A glance out the other car window showed the silvery brilliance of the full moon beginning to peek over the jagged peaks of the Organ Mountains, heralding the beauty of the night before the blazing beauty of the sun was even done for the day. Over the speaker system in my car a Christmas hymn was playing:
“What child is this…?”
The Maker of the sun and moon.
The Creator of colors.
The Master of our souls.
And he lay crying in an animal’s feed bin.
Cold. Frightened. Helpless. Homeless.
The wonder of it caught me by surprise this year. Every year it hits me, but it hit me harder than usual this time. Jesus Christ, the One who makes the intricacies of a butterfly wing, and the song of the whale, and each new cloud, the One who spoke all the universe into existence…a baby? A real live wrinkled helpless pink thing, looking uncomfortably like a chimpanzee? Really?
This is a plot twist no human could ever create. Humanity tells stories about false gods, stories of half-gods even. But the half-gods are always weaker than the “real things,” contemptible, and usually sprouting from a rather evil beginning. This story…this is fully God and fully man. This is the true Creator of all things, the Ruler of every soul ever made, the Highest of high kings, the very essence of goodness, One Who is holy, holy, holy…He is the One to enter a virgin’s womb…Fashioned and formed over nine months like every other human, born in the same bewildering, painful, messy way we all came into this world.
The wonder of it all!
The open-mouthed unexpectedness of this thing called Christmas!
Oh, the hope. Our only hope. Humanity broke the world. We broke ourselves. We broke ourselves to the point of being dead. Think crossed-out eyes, skull and crossbones, dead. No life, no breath, nothing to the soul but a lifeless hunk of indiscernible, putrid gunk. But God chose to step in. He chose to show His glory, how loving He could really be. Hope was spoken the same day we broke everything. Hope was breathed into humanity in our darkest hour. It was a spark that stayed alive through Israel’s line for thousands of years, hundreds of generations. There was speculation and wonder over what the hope would look like solidly. But no one ever guessed the awesome, majestic, utterly ridiculous unexpectedness of the truth. God as a baby. A tiny thing that can do nothing for Himself except bellow at the top of His lungs when He’s hungry or upset. A baby that had to learn to walk, learn to speak; He had to learn it of His ordinary, fallen earthly parents. Don’t you know that was a trial for both the parents and the Son? A baby who grew, taught like the Master He was, and…died. What?! Wait, that can’t be right.
Unutterable mystery! He took the gates of hell by shocked surprise. Satan thought he had won when Christ died. In reality it was the un-guessable plot twist.
The Master stroke of the ultimate Story-Teller.
And it all began in a manger.
The angels felt the wonder of it. They were awed, shocked, amazed, and delighted to the point that they just had to find someone still awake that dark night to blurt out their praise of this incredible story just beginning in David’s little hometown. We grow too used to Christmas. We sing the same songs. We put up the same decorations. We look at the same manger scenes. Take a step back this year. Don’t step back and see it with the eyes of a child. Step back and see it with the eyes of a grownup who is open to wonder. We know more than children. We can be awed in a deeper way than a child. But we have to let ourselves wonder. Don’t let callousness slip into you this Christmas. Step back. Think about the lyrics of the carols you’re singing. See the baby in the manger with renewed eyes.
Remember what He was.
Remember what He became in Bethlehem.
Remember what He came to do.
Remember where He is now.
Yes, now…Jesus Christ lives. He is watching you this very moment. Forget about Santa watching you when you sleep, Jesus Christ is really there, eyeing you every moment of your life, granting you the breath that goes in and out of your lungs this very minute! That baby…the King of Kings…He is real. Long live the King! Forever and ever. No wonder Herod was upset. He had good cause to fret. A new King was born into the world that starry night in Bethlehem. But it wasn’t a new King at all. It was the oldest of all Kings. Sleeping in an animal’s feed bin. Cold, bewildered, only shepherds, a carpenter, a housewife, and barn animals to admire Him. Oh, and angels.
This is one of the oddest stories ever to reach our ears. And it is all true. Oh the wonder of it!
“There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is split on the sand.
“Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all-
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?
“For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.
“Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.”
-G. K. Chesterton, Gloria in Profundis