Christmas is just a few days away. From the sound of things, it promises to be a White Christmas back in the States. With every changing season, one notices the “little things” that you miss when you’re away from home and those you love. A few months ago, it was the savory smells, fiery colors and apple-picking traditions of autumn – what a glorious time of year! Now, of course, it’s those favorite traditions of Christmas: sing-a-long concerts of Handel’s Messiah… all the beautiful old carols… cozy meals with family… wading through knee-deep snow… (Well, no, I guess I don’t really miss that, exactly… :-)
Yet instead, I’ve had the privilege of seeing how another culture celebrates the joyful coming of our Messiah. Earlier this week I joined a group of carolers at the Mission Hospital as they moved from ward to ward, singing Nepali Christmas songs interspersed with readings from Scripture. There was laughter, dancing and folks distributing tangerines to the patients and families. Most of the words and tunes were new to us foreigners, but we clapped and hummed along anyway. Later, a group of us gathered around a backyard bonfire to sing more songs and eat together, surrounded by large cauldrons of curried Nepali vegetables and rice biryani that had been cooked that afternoon over the open fire.
This Advent I have been going through “Good News of Great Joy: Readings for Advent” by John Piper. I thought tomorrow’s reading (spoiler alert!) was particularly beautiful:
The Birth of the Ancient of Days
Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)
This is a great Christmas text even though it comes from the end of Jesus’s life on earth, not the beginning.
The uniqueness of his birth is that he did not originate at his birth. He existed before he was born in a manger. The personhood, the character, the personality of Jesus of Nazareth existed before the man Jesus of Nazareth was born.
The theological word to describe this mystery is not creation, but incarnation. The person—not the body, but the essential personhood of Jesus—existed before he was born as man. His birth was not a coming into being of a new person, but a coming into the world of an infinitely old person.
Micah 5:2 puts it like this, 700 years before Jesus was born:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
The mystery of the birth of Jesus is not merely that he was born of a virgin. That miracle was intended by God to witness to an even greater one—namely, that the child born at Christmas was a person who existed “from of old, from ancient days.”
Merry Christmas, dear ones!! Let us spend time this week reflecting together on the beauty and power and Christ’s incarnation – Emmanuel, “God With Us.”
Quiet He lies
whose vigor unhurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have never closed before.
~ Lucy Shaw ~