The Incarnation is strange. Amidst all the gifts under the tree wrapped in ribbons and shiny paper, it’s the one wrapped in wrinkled paper, with its bow crumpled and askew. Inside is something you didn’t ask for; in fact, it’s the opposite. Instead of the latest iPhone, it’s a pair of socks.
At least, this is how I imagine the Incarnation seemed to a world waiting for a Messiah, long ago.
Longing for God to act powerfully and unmistakably as he had in the past, God’s people waited for a miraculous intervention. You know, something dramatic, like the ten plagues or the parting of the Red Sea. But there was no obvious miracle on Christmas. No, just a small, everyday miracle: a healthy birth, remarkable only to the parents who know His true provenance, some shepherds who had a vision and three foreigners who followed a star.
For the rest of the weary world, this gift was just another Jewish boy born into occupation and poverty, one more generation waiting to hear God speak through His prophets, one more generation longing for God’s rescue. For all the world knew or cared, this child was like thousands of others born that day.
The Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” paints a beautiful picture of the strange beauty of the Incarnation.
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.”
No fanfare to demand our attention. For the world that so desperately waited for a Messiah and the pageantry that would announce him, the child arrived in deafening silence. They continued to hope and to pray for deliverance, never knowing that it had arrived and lived among them.
And even once He came into His ministry, His very ordinariness was reason to overlook Him. When Jesus proclaimed that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah, the crowd responded, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” They might as well have said, “This is not the gift, nor the wrapping, we imagined.”
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.
This year, my Christmas Eve will be different. Usually, Christmas Eve is music and laughter and loud conversations. Instead of a houseful of people and too much food, it is just the two of us (well, four if you count the cats). We might go out to eat, or I might make a simple dinner before we head off to church. I am surprisingly OK with this. As much as I have loved all those boisterous Christmas Eves with family and friends, somehow having a quiet Christmas Eve feels right this year.
I want to to have the space and the silence to notice how quietly Christ enters: My Stealth Savior.
Like the world He was born into, I am waiting for miraculous interventions. I wait for prayers to be answered. I wait for suffering to stop, for children to be rescued from war, for persecutions to end. I want the big, Technicolor miracles. And I may see one or two. While I wait, I want to be quiet and take my eyes off the bright, shiny objects. I want to look instead at the homely gift I didn’t ask for, but that will be exactly what I need.
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still
The dear Christ enters in
I wish you a joyous, silent Christmas.