As a boy, I used to lie on my stomach for hours gazing at the Christmas tree. The colored lights and shiny glass ornaments seemed almost magical, and can still evoke that feeling of wonder in me even today.
But the magic is easily broken, like the ornaments themselves. You’ve probably experienced it. Crisis or loss may haunt our celebrations. What once were merrily anticipated family traditions seem hollow.
Perhaps Advent can be a time to learn to savor a deeper and less fragile beauty, like that of the Christmas story itself.
In some ways, the story is actually quite earthy, very unlike the polished shimmer of a glass ornament. Mary and Joseph are lowly people. Birthing a child is messy business, doubly so when done outdoors in unsanitary conditions.
Oh, we clean it up for our greeting cards, creches, and pageants. Bright, cheerful colors abound. The angels are cute rather than terrifying. Mary looks dressed for company instead of being disheveled and drenched with sweat. The baby glows instead of being smeared with birth fluids.
But ironically, the true and abiding beauty of the story requires the earthiness we deny to it, else what Christians call the Incarnation is empty rhetoric, nothing more. The Savior had to take our fragility and brokenness upon himself, to redeem our humanity from the inside out.
At Christmas, light and life come to darkness and death; joy comes to sorrow.
They still do, whatever shadows may fall over our celebrations.