When something’s dirty, you clean it. When stains seep deep, you scrub and sanitize. When a thorn digs into your heel, you pinch and pull, despite the pain you know it will cause. Because the pain pales in comparison to the healing that only happens after the thorn is removed.
It may seem funny to think about pain during a season of holly jolly and jingle bells and “Joy to the World.” To fixate on hardship when lights twinkle and stars wink in the clear, crisp sky. To ponder hard things when the night is supposed to be silent and carols ring down bustling city streets.
But it’s because when I think about Christmas, I see more than trees cloaked in tinsel and plastic decorations. More than a man perched on a throne-like chair in the middle of shopping malls, promising to fulfill the wishes of children who meet our standards of “good.” More than a cherub-faced child in a bed of pine straw, extending ceramic arms to his mother and father, who are most likely clothed in bright colors.
When I think about Christmas, I see a human history steeped in pride and failure and shame. I see a man and woman who were granted daily communion with their Creator, and yet they chose the world over the wonder of knowing perfect peace. Imperfection can’t live in paradise, otherwise paradise isn’t perfect, so the two were sent away. It seems ridiculous to forfeit fulfillment for selfish desires, doesn’t it?
But then it happened again.
And again, until the Creator regretted making mankind. Regretted. He who is all-knowing and makes no mistakes regretted placing people on this planet. So He spared one faithful man and his family and destroyed the rest.
He kept a remnant and purged the earth of darkness, drowning out all selfishness and unholiness.
But then? It happened again. People became too caught up in momentary passions and the darkness of living apart from the Light. And so God called out a remnant from cities of filth. One faithful man and his family escaped the refining fire. But then one of them looked back, and she was paralyzed by wanting what wasn’t hers to begin with.
The cycle continued. People fell from faith and the sun kept setting and rising on a land of constant shadow. Thousands of years passed, thousands of people breathed their last chance at forgiveness and came face-to-face with the reality of eternity.
Until God ordered a new approach. An approach He’d promised for centuries, but an approach so different many didn’t—don’t—understand why it happened.
It happened inside the frame of a young girl. An unmarried girl who faced the shame of carrying a baby without the commitment of a husband, and yet was found pure and faithful and given the honor of nurturing God’s way of breaking the cycle of sin. Bone grew and flesh formed and life swelled and stretched and kicked until redemption spilled onto a bed of straw and the skies exploded in the light of the Most Holy reflecting off the tips of angels’ wings.
God’s love stretched through the arms of a young mother. She wrapped the One who made her in dingy cloth and cradled Him close to her heart as shepherds coated in sweat and grime stepped over to see the face of God Himself. Their torn nails, caked with the efforts of their occupation, hovered over the tiny head of dark hair as their eyes swelled with the tears that happen when Heaven comes close and touches the most raw parts of the soul.
For years, God had pulled out the faithful, spared a small remnant of humankind, before cleansing the deep-set stains of humanity. But now, God breathed Himself into the form of one of us and came down into our world. Rather than pulling out, God poured in. Rather than removing a few, God stepped in to save all.
Although the mystery only began to unravel with the shrill, panicked cries of a newborn facing air and chill and vulnerability for the first time, it was happening. God was working to bring His people back to Himself, to wrap them in His grace and cradle them close to His heart. To be the bridge between the filth of failed good intentions and the purity of His perfection.
Because darkness can’t stand in the light, we can’t stand before God in our own attempts at goodness. And because we fail, we deserve death. We don’t deserve to be pulled out of the messes we make and the sins we try to hide.
And yet, God made a way.
So Christmas isn’t about the pain and fear and shame of humanity. It’s about the God who stepped down into the pain and fear and shame to show us the way to redemption; to the reunion of Creator and created. To offer us an escape when we earn the chains and shackles that hold us down. To say, “You’re mine and I love you enough to become like you and live in your world so you can be with Me forever. So you can know I know what you’re going through and so you can know there is so much more to life than this.”
And to think we deserve the worst, yet God sent His best? It’s overwhelming.
To think of how He chose to enter the world in the messiest, most painful of ways in order to purify the messiest, most pain-stricken of hearts.
To think He is Emmanuel: God with us.
To think God saw, God came, and God stays.
Coming as the Son of God….A baby…Salvation unfolding.
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone…
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
– Isaiah 9:2-6