It’s December 29, and the Christmas letdown is officially here. The gifts have been opened, and now it’s time for returns and exchanges. The cookies and the decorations are on the verge of going stale. The alarm clock is a harsh reminder that Christmas is no longer two blissful weeks of vacation from school. And now it’s officially just winter, without the twinkly lights and festivities to take the edge off.
It is in the midst of this post-holiday malaise that I remember Christmas isn’t really, after all, about sentimentality or fuzzy feelings. And it’s certainly not limited to a day in December. Ultimately it’s about grace in all its rawness and terror and mystery.
Frederick Buchner wrote this beautiful reflection on the grace of Christmas:
Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed—as a matter of cold, hard fact—all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.
The Word became flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space, time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God…who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”
Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.
—Frederick Buechner, Whispers in the Dark
As the Christmas season in all its commerciality winds down, I pray that we will all experience the perennial grace of the Incarnation, which knows no calendar.
The Incarnation: Unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. May it ever be so.