This day we celebrate means many things to many people. For a fair number, it carries overtones of family, togetherness, warmth, and respite from the familiar labors of the world. Perhaps a child’s excitement at tales of Santa Claus. For others – primarily in the retail industry – there are perhaps less elevated sentiments involving holiday shoppers and seasonal revenue. Christmas has become a sort of prism for the culture at large, whereby each sees their own image and desires reflected back.
There is, of course, a deeper meaning, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.
The first Christmas, properly speaking, began in Bethlehem in the first of what has since been called Anno Domini – the Year of Our Lord. But the story behind it goes back much further – to the very beginning of Time itself. Some would mark its beginning at the first disobedience in Eden – others at the War in Heaven. Nevertheless, it began with a Fall – a marring of that which had before been “very good” in the sight of the Most High. A poison entered into the world which has since been known under the name of “sin.”
We know what the Creator chose to do. But just as significant is what He did not do. He did not destroy, abandon, or – perhaps most perplexing of all to mortal eyes – immediately rectify. In the first we can see the infinite Love of an infinite God, but this last is an everlasting “why?” for all those who would justify His ways to men amidst the sufferings of the world.
Until the Day that marks the end of Time, we will perceive the answer only in shadows. But glimpses are possible if we consider the very nature of our God.
THE MASTER ARTIST
From the record of Scripture, we know God as Holy, Just, Merciful, and full of Love. But before aught else, the first pages of Genesis reveal Him as a Creator. And what form of Creation? One that was not only perfect, but beautiful. We do not live in a merely functional, mechanistic universe, but in the work of Artist. In the words of the early Church Father Irenaeus:
“O man, it is not you who make God, but rather God who makes you. Wait patiently for the hand of your Artist, who makes all things at the proper time. Present him with a heart that is supple and docile, preserve the imprint that this artist has given you, protect in yourself the Water that comes from Him, without which you will harden and lose the trace of his fingers. In preserving the modeling, you will mount up toward perfection, for the art of God will cover what in you is only clay. His hands have fashioned in you your very substance; he will adorn you with gold and silver, inside and out, and the King himself will be captured by your beauty.” (Ireneaus, Against Heresies)
Later poets and storytellers have likened the Creation – and the events within it – to a Great Music unfolding through Eternity. JRR Tolkien used this very imagery to his retelling of Genesis within the Simarillion. Here, we see the Creator, called Eru Illuvatar within the story, responding to the rebellion of a fallen angel with these words:
“And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.” (JRR Tolkien, The Silmarillion)
God, the Master Artist – and musician – was not content to simply “repair” what had been damaged, but desired to turn that very damage into the creation of things even greater than what had come before – a Grand Drama still unfolding through History. It is a story and a promise for every human soul.
THE WORD INCARNATE
It is said that to read a story is to enter the mind of the writer – to see with eyes not our own and perceive with another’s thoughts. So it is that God reveals His mind through The Greatest Story Ever Told – an epic tale of a Champion, born of woman, come to vanquish a mighty Serpent. And more, for which earthly writer has entered Incarnate into the very story he has written?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14)
Jesus the Christ was sent into the world as a person, who was born and lived as a human being, coming and living among us that we might know Him:
“And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” (Hebrews 8:11)
The truth “hidden from the foundation of the world” was revealed not in dry, abstract precepts but in the Life and example of the Word Made Flesh, before whose coming the Word itself was perceived but in shadow. It had to be incarnated so that it could be known.
THE GIFT OF STORY – AND THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL
C.S. Lewis, in his Reflections on the Psalms, referred to poetry as “a little incarnation, giving body to what had before been invisible and inaudible.” The same can be said for prose – for the storyteller’s greatest task is to their (and others’) beliefs, values, hopes, dreams and present them in concrete form. As we have seen, the Truth itself has been revealed the story of in an incarnate Savior. Pure reason can reach only the mind (“seeing they might not see”) – stories reach the imagination, and through the imagination the heart. For it is only here that the things we believe become real to us, and thus did Christ Himself speak in parables. It was not enough that those he taught accept his teachings by dry reason – the Truth had to resonate with them at the very heart. Only then could they truly understand and live what they had been taught, for it would now be a part of them.
Christ came into our world to show us a greater one, and stories allow us to go beyond ourselves, our time, and our own limited range of experience. Through them, we are shown that we truly are “in the world but not of it.” This precept counsels us to be separate from the sin that is in the world, but it is also perhaps one of the most powerful testaments to man’s created purpose. We are made with something more inside us, something beyond this world’s control – the ability to imagine greater things, to challenge fate and participate in divine life through our creative impulse, being made in the image of the first and greatest Creator.
To live life itself is in a sense to write and tell a story, mirroring that which is the pinnacle of all stories. In the Birth, Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ, we see the embodiment of all the collective, unconscious yearnings of the human race. The Restorer of that which was lost, the Rightful King come to reclaim a stolen throne, the Prince who came for his Bride imprisoned by the Dragon:
“For as God is infinitely the greatest Being, so he is allowed to be infinitely the most beautiful and excellent: and all the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation is but the reflection of the diffused beams of that Being who hath an infinite fulness of brightness and glory; God… is the foundation and fountain of all being and all beauty.” (Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue)
As we celebrate this day, let us remember there was no necessary reason we should perceive or be given a share in this beauty, for it is a gift freely given from a God who “giveth us richly all things to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17) And not only, for He gave us the greatest gift ever known – freedom from sin and the power of a renewed life in the likeness of His resurrection.
A Blessed Christmas to you all as we continue our journey through the Uncharted Corners of Heaven and Earth.