Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Other Christmas

I don't know about you, but keeping a Christmas tradition faithfully is not my family's forte. We have traditions, but we pick and choose a handful of them every year and leave the rest. Some years we read Dickens' A Christmas Carol; some years we go Christmas-light-seeing; some years we read the story of Jesus' birth in the book of Luke; some years we go to Christmas Eve service.

I don't mind, personally. I think they're all great traditions to have at Christmastime, and yet I think I would both get bored and feel over-busy if we did all of them every year. A few is enough.

One that I'm conflicted about is reading Jesus' birth story. I've heard it so many times that the story has gotten old and worn and it no longer moves me to wonder like it should. But I want to hear it again. I want to break out of my familiarity, listen with new ears, and try to wrap my head around God-as-man. Of course I can't, but trying is so good for us, gets us one step closer to God.

As I was yearning for newness in this old tradition, I happened upon another telling of the story:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

This is chapter 12 of the book of Revelation: Jesus' birth story told from the perspective of those watching from heaven. It just so happened I was reading it that day as I finish up reading the Bible in a year. Talk about getting a new perspective!

Where we see a feeding-trough, the other reality is a wilderness. Where we see "no room in the inn," the other reality is battle with a dragon. We see all the human concerns that we relate to, and it's not that those things aren't important, but often we reduce the story of Jesus to something merely human and omit the unseen part, the realities of God. This is as much a marring of the gospel as Gnosticism is.

The truth of Jesus is God as human, of human hardships and divine battle all mixed together. That incomprehensible confusion of the mundane and the mystical is precisely what the gospel is about: God made human concerns his own, and he puts eternity in the hearts of men, bringing us into the divine. Human and God meet and meld. It's the impossible truth of the gospel.

When I can see that dual-reality--when I can see that Jesus was the meeting-point of God-ness and humanity in one person--then I can start to understand the future God has for me. God's wish isn't just to love me from afar, as we sometimes perceive, from "up there," but to love me up close and personal. God's desire is to be so close with me, to have me so connected up in him, that divine and human meet as one.

We have a picture of what this will be like when Jesus says that marriage won't be important in God's kingdom because our needs for intimacy will be completely satisfied in the relationship we have with God. And we know that God says marriage is two become one. What great mystery awaits us when we meet God in a relationship that is even more intimate than that?

I asked to see the birth of Christ with new eyes, and I think now I do.

Merry Christmas!