The mystery from which true godliness springs is great.
For this pandemic Christmas, I say let’s forget COVID-19 for a quiet moment. Enough is enough already. Instead, I invite you to sit back with me and let the joy and wonder of Jesus’ first coming invade our souls.
I once saw a painting by Gari Melchers simply titled, The Nativity. Perhaps it was the way the artist captured the brooding face of the husband-not-father as he leans forward on his squatted knees and pensively stares at the bedded newborn tucked at his feet in that crude box of hay. Or maybe it was the utter “spent-ness” of the young birth mother, exhausted, now prone on the cold floor, save for her slumping shoulders propped against the stable wall, her tired eyes at half-mast, her weary face expressionless and resting upon the side of her betrothed.
It makes you wonder: What is it the husband broods upon? What thoughts are hers, the young mother? In the heavy, still air, do they wonder that the “infant lowly” is the “infant holy”? “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16, NIV).
“Great mystery” — these ancient words are as provocative in the Greek as they are in the English — mega musterion — a truly “mega mystery.” How else shall we describe the immersing incarnation (literally, “infleshment”) of the Infinite into this shadowland we finites still call home?
G. K. Chesterton was right: “We walk bewildered in the light, for something is too large for sight, and something much too plain to say.” The Seed of God planted in the womb of humanity — why, the very mechanics and genetics of such a divine-human anatomical transfer are more than even our third-millennial science can fathom.
But in the end, the great mystery that Christmas bids us ponder isn’t so much that God could do it, but rather that God would do it. “The work of redemption is called a mystery, and it is indeed the mystery by which everlasting righteousness is brought to all who believe.… Christ, at an infinite cost, by a painful process, mysterious to angels as well as to men, assumed humanity. Hiding His divinity, laying aside His glory, He was born a babe in Bethlehem.”*
It was the day before Christmas. Busily wrapping packages, the boy’s mother asked if he’d please shine her shoes. Soon, with the proud smile of a seven-year-old, he brought her shiny shoes for inspection. She was so pleased that she handed him a quarter. On Christmas morning, she felt a strange lump in one shoe. Taking it off, she shook the shoe and out dropped a quarter wrapped in a small piece of paper. On it in a child’s scrawl were the words, “I done it for love.”
This post originally appeared on the New Perceptions television ministry blog, The Fourth Watch.
*Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1957), 7:915.