December 25, 2010

O Come Let Us Adore Him.

Lyric love: It's still a mystery to me / That the hands of God could be so small, / How tiny fingers reaching in the night / Were the very hands that measured the sky... (Joy Williams, 'Here With Us')

An Ethiopian Orthodox painting of Mary and Jesus

In America, the celebration of Christ’s birth falls against a backdrop of colored lights, overcrowded malls, and dreams of snow. The story of baby Jesus is something to smile at in familiarity, maybe pausing for a moment of obligatory reverence. Even in Kenya, with the sun shining hotly through the open windows, I still find myself surrounded by a mountain of crumpled wrapping paper, a pile of shiny new things, and the birth of the Savior of the world relegated to mere afterthought.

I reread the first few chapters of Luke in my quiet time in the past few weeks (or tried to. Travel and plans falling through destroyed this a little, sadly. Which is no excuse, really.). I was struck by two things. First, that the story of Christmas is the story of God Almighty, Creator and Sustainer of the Heavens and the Earth, breaking into humanity. It begins with angels breaching the gap between heaven and earth, as they announce the Lord’s plans to Zechariah and Mary. Then – impossibly – the Word became flesh. Divinity bound itself in humanity, with all the tangibility of a heart pumping blood and lungs pumping air; with skin and fingerprints and emotions and hunger and need. God became part of humanity, and he was infancy and vulnerability. But at the same time, he came with the power to send darkness scurrying away and give life to the fullest. The great paradox of the Incarnation.

The second thing I realized was what a cataclysmic event this was. Four hundred years of silence, and then this: the tangible fulfillment of God’s promises to Adam, Abraham, the prophets, the Israelites. What a frenzy heaven must have been in as final preparations were made! Redemption was in the works, and how all the angels must not have been able to stop pouring out adoration to the Lord for his goodness! Luke 2:13-14 says “Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest!’” And yet, on earth, there was hardly a commotion. Just a young, frightened girl, a husband who trusted in spite of appearances, a fieldful of shepherds, and later a few foreign magi there to welcome him. Is this still the way it is? God has come to earth, but no one pays attention?

I crave a reminder of the wonder and miracle of Christmas, because I, too, have made it commonplace, caught up, instead, in my own obsessions and failures. But what I want is to recognize these realities. I want to praise God with the angels because He became one of us, because He fulfils promises, and because He is just the same today. But – another paradox – I don’t think I can do this without His help.

Merry Christmas :]

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