I feel I ought to be saying something profound about Christmas, but I find it difficult. The really important things have all been said already. To me the overwhelming thing is always the enormous disjunction between the baby in the manger, and all the warm, sentimental human feelings that surround our feelings about babies, and His absolute Deity. This child, carried in a woman’s womb for nine months, born, presumably, with all the agony, and messiness, and annihilation of all dignity that human birth involves (Is there a ladylike way to give birth? A saintly, sanitised way? In a stable? Hmm .. get real!), needing to be fed, and changed and cleaned and loved, is the transcendent Lord of all, whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts. And this child, whose imagined image is made over-familiar through thousands of thousands of artists depictions, all showing Him angelically fair, and irresistibly cute, has come into this world deliberately, for no other purpose than to be that other familiar religious image – the tortured saviour, Who, if the image veers even slightly towards realism, is suffering a pain from which we turn our eyes away, our courage quailing, not just from the obscenity of innocent suffering stripped from the trailing clouds of glory that often obscure it, but also from the guilty knowledge that we are responsible for His pain.
This is why I have a special fondness for the later less familiar verses of the great Christmas songs. In The Bleak midwinter, for example, soppy with Victorian sentiment, and seasonally inaccurate, has one verse whose grasp of the transcendent awes me every time:
Our God, heaven cannot hold him
nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away
when he comes to reign:
in the bleak midwinter
a stable place sufficed
the Lord God incarnate,
(Thankyou Christina Rossetti, all is forgiven).
Likewise that magnificent verse of What child is this?:
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
And, after all these years, Hark the Herald Angels sing still moves me deeply with such lines as:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
To me Christmas is all about the incarnation of my God, breaking into the darkness of this world, enduring all that it means to be human, suffering, dying, loving me, and rising again in triumph to change the world forever ..
The only possible right response to Christmas is worship, with everything I am, to the One who is everything, and became nothing, so that through Him I might have all things ..