On Christmas Day, this joyous day, the Word’s Incarnation and death’s
long shadow are linked, hinged in the dark stable like the reality of
God’s kingdom on the one hand and the fruit of our self-delusion on the
Jesus was born, fully God and fully man, for one purpose only: to die in order to save believers from death. Manger straw was sharp, like splinters from a criminal’s cross.
As a sharp-dressed Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra point out in a classic of Christmas cool, it’s a “Marshmallow World”:
Yet ours is a “marshmallow world” only in a way that the lyricist likely did not intend: a world made insubstantial by Adam’s fall, a confection of a world, treacly and the color of a whitewashed sepulcher. Into this world the new Adam came, God robed in flesh, verbum caro, mysterious as the “O Magnum Mysterium” of Spanish composer Tomas Luis de Victoria (c. 1548 – 1611) (link below).
Mysterious thing, Christmas Day, and we do well to meditate on it. Yet those in the Puritan tradition, while rejoicing in the blessed event, often scoffed at the day’s popular commemoration: Jonathan Edwards consciously avoided ever preaching a “Christmas” sermon, and the Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon considered fixing the day on December 25 to be a “superstition” to paint over pagan winter festivals. They stripped away the day, down to the Gospel.
Perhaps for you this Advent season, perhaps even this Christmas Day,
has been stripped down to the grain. The days are darker and sharper at
the same time, restless with God’s movement beneath the seeming
appearance of things. Revolution, quiet portents, death: all seems
possible to you.
If so, let God speak in the grain. Consider the spookiness of my
favorite Christmas carol, “In the bleak midwinter” by Christina Rossetti
In the bleak midwinter… Heaven and earth shall flee away When He comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter A stable-place sufficed The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.