12.25.13 10:45 AM ET
The True Gifts of Christmas Are Life, Love, and the Mystery of God
The amazing thing about Christmas is that it is so much more than it seems.
What is seems is brash, bold, audacious. Bright strings of lights; the clang of the Salvation Army Santa’s bell. Honking horns in a mall parking lot as we search for the last available spot. Glasses clinked at dinner—“cheers!”—and elves on shelves. The feral sound of wrapping paper ripping open, releasing gifts into anxious hands.
It’s loud. It’s boisterous. It’s colorful. It’s Christmas.
But, quietly, Christmas still holds its secrets. In fact, we can rush by dozens of Christmases in a row and never notice one of these secrets. It requires a certain stillness to perceive them, isolating ourselves from the fanfare for a few moments, looking carefully in buried places. But in that silence Christmas begins to give up its mysteries, lay them bare.
From Italian witches to Japanese fried chicken feasts, see how people celebrate Christmas around the world.
The first secrets that Christmas reveals are its glorious hidden presents. Not the Best Buy gift card handed to us and Macy’s box handed back to them—these are wonderful, they are important, but there’s even more. See, while we’re passing our tokens of appreciation around a circle on Christmas Eve or morning, Christmas is passionately whispering to us: “I’ve been hooking you up all year!”
Every day for 365 days, we have yawned and stretched in our beds and opened our eyelids to a rising sun. There have been good days and bad days but we have lived and owned them all; they are ours. Many people—including some we knew, some we loved—celebrated last Christmas but are not here for this one. And yet for some reason, we were handed this existence of ours anew, every single day this year. What a splendid present, a remarkable reward! The gift of life, unwrapped today, on Christmas.
And as remarkable as this living, breathing body of ours is to wake up to each day, it’s not even Christmas’s greatest secret. See, we could have been placed here alone, wandering this earth like a man in a cave, hearing only the echo of our voice against the walls. But Christmas allows us to pause and look around, and see who stands beside us.
Family—imperfect, frustrating, beautiful family—whose bonds last when other ties have frayed. Friends who make us laugh, and tell us the truth, and stick it out through joy and sorrow. Spouses, lovers whose touch can still be tender, who know us like no other. Colleagues who care for us, opponents who sharpen us, children whose laughter fills the air.
Christmas reveals the fact that we are all surrounded by remarkable people, each crafted with a special flair. We too often rush pass them, forgetting their unique qualities, taking them for mundane. But as C.S. Lewis declared, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” To the perceptive, Christmas helps us see those around us for the gifts they truly are.
Finally, in addition to revealing secrets about ourselves, and each other, Christmas also sends us in pursuit of the secrets of God.
We usually stop at the nicely packaged version of the Christmas story: a flaxen-haired child and two ruddy parents, “away in a manger, no crib for a bed.” But there’s so much more to grapple with.
The mystery of Mary visited by the Angel Gabriel, and told that she would be impregnated by none other than the Spirit of God. The humility of Joseph to accept this news when most would have responded with incredulity and dismay. The long journey of the Magi—the Wise Men—in pursuit of a single star. The fact that God chose an impoverished couple—so poor that they could not offer the traditional sacrifice after Jesus’s birth—to bring His son into the world. And the wonder of a perfect God entering a broken world at all.
Christmas is less of a finding than a seeking—an exploration of the mysteries of God. Like shepherds and Magi, we’ve heard tales, perplexing and beautiful tales. And this season beckons us to spend a few moments pursuing the truth. The truth of the gift of life we’ve been handed each day. The truth of the gift of each other, so often taken for granted. And the unfolding truth of a God made man, who pursues us if we would only do the same.
What a secretly beautiful set of presents to unwrap—today and every day.