Though it occurred only a few days ago, Christmas seems as distant as the horizon, vaguely visible but out of reach. I have passed by and through another Christmas. Though holiday décor still abounds, most of the spirit of Christmas has gone the way of holiday music on the radio.
Christmas fades so quickly, at least to me, because it seems so overly familiar. Or at least it did until this year.
This Christmas, I found within one of the most familiar parts of the Christmas story something that has both mystified and awed me: Jesus came into this world as a baby.
I know. Big revelation, as if I haven’t seen thousands of Nativity scenes, Christmas plays, cards and every other form of Christmas regalia picturing a cute, chubby infant in a straw-filled manger.
I get that Jesus came to us in the ordinary way of birth and crying and needing his mommy just like every one of us. What has grabbed me this year, however, is just what that means.
When I was a kid, we sang about how “He’s got the whole world (pronounced as a two-syllable word no less) in his hands…” That’s the way grown ups seemed to want us to picture God: Big and awesome and capable of holding this world and all others in the universe in his hands. But then along comes Jesus and suddenly, everything is all turned upside down.
The One who holds the universe is now held in the hands of a young mother, a carpenter, some shepherds, Simeon, Anna and likely many others. God has not only made himself small enough to hold, but he’s made himself vulnerable to the point where he would die without the care of others.
Because in that vulnerability, he becomes accessible to us. I can’t fully imagine a God who holds galaxies. But I can relate to a child, much like ones I have held in my own arms. God loves us so much that he takes the form of a tiny baby just so we could know what it means to hold him that close.
The day after Christmas, I read a Christmas letter from the wife of an old college buddy of mine I haven’t seen for several years. She wrote to inform us that my friend had recently passed away after losing a long battle with cancer. As I read her words, as everything inside me started to tear apart, I found myself doing what I have learned over time to do in such situations: I lifted up my friend’s family to God and in my own pain, I turned and, like the hold hymn noted, I rested in the loving arms of Jesus.
I rested in his arms.
And yet, two thousand years ago, he rested in the arms of people just like you and me. I don’t understand it, but somehow, I sense that these are not separate ideas.
All I know for sure this Christmas is that I cannot think of that child in the manger in the same way. There is more mystery and wonder than I can explain, but I realize at least this much:
There’s a lot more about Christmas to hold onto than I ever imagined.