Christmas Reflection -- December 25
For unto us a child is born,
Unto us a son is given.
Of the many traditions, artwork, music, and food that have become part of the season, our minds’ image of the Christ Child in the manger is what brings the reality of Christmas to life. With that child in the manger, we can look into the face of the God of mystery, the God of grace, the God of eternal love. It is that love that does not let us go, then, centuries ago in Bethlehem, and now, in our times and in our homes.
The Gestapo in April 1943 arrested and imprisoned German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a leading Christian voice against Nazism during World War II. Writing from his prison cell and then from a concentration camp, Bonhoeffer spoke of the mystery of God in the midst of evil, death, guilt, and distress. He described the blessed certainty of salvation through the birth of a divine child and the miracle of unexpected love. Bonhoeffer wrote:
God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.1
Bonhoeffer moves with us through the Advent days of Luke’s gospel, down that long road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Then, Bonhoeffer brings us face to face with God in the dark closeness of a humble stable.
At the end of her long trip, weary, Mary “gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Bonhoeffer said it wonderfully:
God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.2
Now we have come, once again, to Christmas. We invite you to come with us by television, computer, smart phone, or at least by imagination, to Bethlehem and Manger Square. It is dark. On one side of the square rises a Moslem minaret, on the opposite side is the Church of the Nativity. And in the square gather people from many places, of different colors and genders, but brothers and sisters all. They lift candles and sing, softly, the same words in many languages: “Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light…with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus Lord at thy Birth…Christ the Savior is Born!”
1 See Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010.
Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. The kingdoms of this world is become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.
(Georg Friedrich Händel, Messiah)