Note from the Editor: Enjoy this reflection on the Incarnation from our archives.
Not of the contents of a carefully wrapped box in your childhood home, hidden from view until enterprising siblings helped you spy out the contents (or were you one of the professional tape-peelers who could lift a flap of wrapping paper without leaving a trace?).
Not of a painful holiday discovery, realizing your daughter has an eating disorder or your sister has cancer or Uncle Joe isn’t who everyone thought he is.
Not of the extravagant new church cantata, rehearsed over months and performed under spotlights in matching robes to an audience in green and red.
Christmas is a revelation, one that trumps even North American preoccupation with the Book of Revelation and end times, because Christmas is Word-Made-Flesh and in him was life and light. And what we know about Christ’s second coming is always framed in what we know of Christ’s first coming, of who Christ is revealed to be through the incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us. We have seen the careful braiding of a whip in the temple, we have seen the mud smeared on a blind man’s eyes, we have seen the gentle drawing in the dirt as a woman shivers and shakes while her accusers drop their rocks, we have seen friends’ gush of tears as they demand, “if you had been here, our brother would not have died,” we have seen the crazed man stumbling naked among the tombs and sitting dressed and in his right mind, we have seen a piercing glance towards Simon’s eyes across a courtyard, we have seen the stumble and fall in blood and sweat and the Cyrene who carried Christ’s instrument of torture and death (what a strange brotherhood).
Who is God? Emmanuel, Word-Made-Flesh, Jesus Christ the fully divine, fully mortal. And the Book of Revelation is understood through Emmanuel, God with us, who makes all things new – new, say, as a newborn, fists tight, eyes blinking, with that delicious newborn smell and tiny tufts of hair.
Our world needs to be new again: reborn, pressed against the chest of its Creator. Do galaxies have a newborn smell? Do subatomic particles dance with the hard-to-predict movements of a newborn’s kicking legs? In the youth of the world, did the trees yawn the contented sigh of a just-nursed newborn?
The earth needs swaddling cloths. How can we be young again? Innocent like a newborn baby? How can we go back, before terrorism or Rwandan genocide or Vietnam or the Holocaust or Hiroshima or the Spanish flu or mustard gas or humans bought and sold or the plague or Mongolian war chiefs or the crusades or martyrs or Hebrew slaves in Egypt or Cain and Abel…how old and jaded the human race feels sometimes.
All things new: our world needs to be new again, but not by going back. We can’t be young again, returning to childhood, peeling tape away from the edge of Rudolph wrapping paper, Citizen Kane whispering, “Rosebud…” How can a man be born again? Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time? “See, I am making all things new:”
See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
What do we want for Christmas? A set of swaddling cloths for the world, newborn and blinking. Mercifully, we’ve gotten a peek at the cosmic birth narrative through the birth of Jesus Christ and the unveiling of the new birth of the cosmos in the Book of Revelation.
Meanwhile, enjoy your set of tiny jams or a crisp new pair of flannel pajamas with relished contentment, and let hope be born in your heart today.