“I have come,” said a deep voice behind them. They turned and saw the Lion himself, so bright and real and strong that everything else began at once to look pale and shadowy compared with him.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
Matthew and Luke’s narration of Jesus’ birth shows Christmas as the epitome of the way unimaginable glory and utter commonness intertwine. We see a young girl from a subjugated land pregnant by a miracle of the Holy Spirit. We see men from the East (I’ve always liked believing that at least one of them was an Indian like me) riding across lands in response to a hitherto non-existent celestial body. We see a bunch of lower-class youths who tended sheep for a living witness a multitude of angels from heaven (!) speaking in unison (!!). And in the midst of it all is a baby in swaddling clothes lying in a feeding trough for animals—the Savior of the world.
Wooden nativity scenes in front of homes and fireplaces will show this much. As you gaze upon this scene, you might have hot chocolate in your hands, the marshmallow just starting to melt into a white foamy puddle. You might see the lights from your Christmas tree twinkle from the corner of your eye. Like Jill and Eustace from The Silver Chair, you think about how Jesus is bright and real and strong, and his birth feels like a warm blanket protecting you through a harsh winter.
This year, however, my eyes were drawn to the passage in Matthew 2:16-18. I wanted to move on quickly from the horror portrayed there, gloss over it, but something made me stay. It talks of the children slaughtered in the hands of an enraged, jealous king, and the excruciating lament of their mothers that rise to the city’s skies. When these words translate themselves into scenes and sounds in my imagination, a stupendous, dark weight bears itself down on me. There is no choir singing in this part of the Christmas story, or gifts or twinkling lights–only inconsolable moaning and hopelessness. Into the intertwining of glory and commonness weaves itself a thread of wretched despair.
And yet still, Scripture reminds us that this child around whom this darkness swirls is called Immanuel.
When the storm blows away the papery ornaments of festivity, He remains, His hand holding us as a father guides his child. This child, who was born to eventually taste horrific despair of cosmic proportions, is God’s presence in our midst. If He alone is the single song we faintly hear, the sole light that flickers, the only gift that means anything at all, then let us grasp at Him with all our broken hearts. Maybe His deep voice doesn’t render the shattered things pale and shadowy but His birth 2000 years ago gives us hope that one day, it will be so. That day, He will come like a lion, and He will fully seem to us as He really is—bright and real and strong. Until then, take heart: He is with us.