Longing for the Divine

Reassessing the Nativity

When I was a young boy, I noticed that Christmas was a time filled with happiness and joy. I felt the closeess of family and friends permeate the holiday. As joyous songs filled the air, my heart stirred with the wonder of it all. It wasn’t just the carols and the promise of presents; there was something about the season that bonded everyone—its joy, sparkle, and wonder seemed to capture all that was good, and happiness pulsated through everyone’s heart. In the beauty, joy, and laughter I experienced and in the love of family and friends, I sensed that goodness was real, but when Christmas was over, that happiness and wonder faded. I wanted to replicate it; this happiest time of year awakened my yearning for a more enduring joy.

Now grown, I know that there is more to happiness than sparkling decorations, joyous hymns, and gifts wrapped with pretty bows. I seek to create an enduring joy that can fill all my days. I want to hear the angels rejoicing without having to strain. At times, I catch glimpses of the transcendent within the beauty and love I see, but I confess that the religious dogmas, traditions, and creeds that malign God are not beautiful to me. Portraying the Creator as arbitrarily severe toward humans until they meet His demands steals joy from the world and instills fear in me. I have come to realize that the problem is my inability to see God’s goodness and loveliness. If I believe that God is as kind, loving, and forgiving as I imagine Him to be, perhaps I could comprehend.

Who is God? What is His character? Is He a forgiving God, a gentle peacemaker, and a selfless giver? The nativity offers an occasion for me to see God more clearly. The baby we celebrate every December 25 is God manifested to us. I know it’s not the date of Jesus’s birth and am familiar with the compelling arguments for a different birthday, but I am cautious about drawing conclusions from silence. The exact timing is not important. The season’s festive trappings and merrymaking are not driving features for me; instead, I feel compelled to focus on reassessing the story of Jesus’s incarnation.

The God revealed 2,000 years ago in the babe of Bethlehem is more intimate and genuine than I could possibly imagine. Those who encountered this revelation had to unlearn some things, and so must we all. At the center of it all is God’s incarnate purity and love as He relates to our world. This is the image of God I see. The corruption and darkness I witness is not part of this nativity but rather a veil that prevents me from seeing what God is really like. The truth about God is revealed in the humble babe, and He is more glorious than I dream possible. The beauty of His holiness is beyond comprehension; even with this near glimpse of God, I can barely fathom His enormity. However, the humility and self-giving love I perceive in God made flesh makes truth, joy, peace, and beauty real to me. This truth changes everything, driving me to lay hold of the power and grace of these good tidings for all.

Like the shepherds keeping flock on the hills of Bethlehem, I feel compelled to go and see the babe who is the humble King of an otherworldly kingdom and upon whom God’s good government rests (Isaiah 9:1–7). Seeing this baby born of humble origins and lying in a feeding trough enlarges my soul. I see a babe wrapped in the cloths used to bind sacrificial lambs, which makes me consider how the love of this self-sacrificing God joins me in my suffering. My hope is sustained because the God revealed in the face of Jesus is meek and lowly yet glorious and highly extolled. This revealed God is the sheer beauty of unconditional love. He leads me down the paths of peace. He refreshes my soul. His goodness and love follow me always. With His comforting love, I have unbounded and unending joy. Despite my worries, disappointments, and concerns I do not need to be afraid. God is for me, not against me. The heavenly angels tell me so as they launch into rejoicing song about God’s glories and peace on earth (Luke 2:10–11). I learn that God does not consider the world bad or deserving of never-ending punishment. He brings good news of great joy for all people, whether or not they realize it. He comes to restore and renew us in His co-suffering love, and I encounter this love’s illuminating brightness. God’s character shines in the angels’ sung proclamation. Like flashes of light in the darkness, God breaks though ugly lies (Isaiah 60:1–3; Hebrews 1:3). The Daystar dawns, and the bright rays of God’ glory shine through the shadows of confusion (Luke 1:79; 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 18:1). My ignorance is replaced by perfect clarity as I encounter God. The rejoicing angels declare His grace and peace, changing everything.

The wonder and beauty I see revealed in the person of Jesus is real; it must be. Without such a God, my dreams of beauty and endless love would be untrue. My desire for truth, love, and happiness would be an illusion, and my thoughts about peace would be invalid. The Magi, who were steeped in astrology and heathenism as they followed the star, traveled hundreds of miles to worship the baby Jesus. They were drawn neither by faith in the stars nor nature-inspired curiosity; they had deep faith in Him. They celebrated, falling to their knees in awe-filled worship and offering gifts, though they had no religious obligation to do so. Jesus’s birth exposed the self-absorption of human rulers and the dark demonic distortions that had blighted God’s loveliness and character. It broke the paganism that assaulted His character and cast down the deceiver (Revelation 12:1–9). Jesus’s beauty reveals God to be gracious, true, and lovely. I take this seriously, for without Him, beauty, truth, and hope would make no sense. How we see God revealed in the person of Jesus determines our ability to discern the truth about God as the sustainer and beautifier of all that is good in our world.

How are we to celebrate the profound significance of Jesus in today’s culture? I think we suffer from a poor understanding of Jesus. Many still suffer from incorrect thinking about God, and few seek Him because they know His character to be good (Romans 3:11). We need a better glimpse of the good news about our powerful and surprising God. I think we fail to experience the dazzling beauty and sparkle of His matchless charms. We are not truly enchanted by Him. Caught up in trivial things, we end up missing out on the greater enjoyments awaiting us. I don’t think we celebrate Jesus well. The miraculous “Bread of Life” has become boring. It’s good to recognize the importance of the Word becoming flesh to dwell among us, but the story of God revealed in Jesus must be repeated many times throughout our lives until we see God as the beautifier of all. The importance of God’s revelation in the face of Jesus can’t be overemphasized. It is the most glorious truth. God’s unimaginable beauty and presence in the person of Jesus is the best gift imaginable—a gift as surprising as it is beautiful. It’s the God we have always wanted and dreamed of. Love, hope, peace, redemption, and wonder—these are only possible because of Him.

My only fear is that I will get caught up in life’s frivolities or trifles and overlook the wonders of God’s love and presence dwelling among us. If I am distracted by trivial festivities, I may miss a goodness that is too wonderful to miss—the greater joy and celebration that await us. I thus make every effort to focus on the incarnation of Jesus and celebrate His beautiful life, unending joy, and unsurpassable peace, which are not founded on worldly pleasures or conquest. I want the sweet spirit of Christ—not profuse merrymaking—to permeate. God’s presence is a miracle and gift we all should receive. The problem is how we celebrate the humble and loving God who has been revealed through Jesus as seeking us. How can we bring the message of God’s good kingdom to a broken world? Perhaps if Jesus’s beauty and matchless loveliness reigned in my life, I would sing the song of the angels. And if Jesus were born in my life today, perhaps my character would testify that God has indeed revealed Himself as the Savior of the world and that I am a child of the highest King.

Craig Ashton Jr.

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