Christmas and the Things of Earth
These passages, and the events they describe, aren’t just a part of the same Bible; they’re inextricably linked. They are woven together. God made a world. God made himself into a baby. God created us. God with us. These are two steps in one Great Dance.
God Speaks in Things
How so? Begin with the goal of creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). And not just the heavens. Everything declares the glory of God. His invisible attributes are clearly perceived in the things that have been made (Romans 1:20). Creation makes invisible realities visible. As one theologian said, commenting on Psalm 1, “Trees are audio-visual aids to help us understand righteousness.”
The world is filled with images of divine things, as full as a language is of words. Creation is the triune God’s self-revelation, his communication to his image-bearers. As N.D. Wilson writes, we live in God’s language:
Imagine a poem written with such enormous three-dimensional words that we had to invent a smaller word to reference each of the big ones; that we had to rewrite the whole thing in shorthand, smashing it into two dimensions, just to talk about it. Or don’t imagine it. Look outside. Human language is our attempt at navigating God’s language; it is us running between the lines of his epic, climbing on the vowels and building houses out of the consonants.
The Bible is our Rosetta Stone, the grammar textbook that teaches us how to read everything else. “Consider the birds” (Matthew 6:26). “Consider the lilies” (Matthew 6:28). “Consider the ant” (Proverbs 6:6). There are divine lessons in seeds and fields, in sand and rocks, in wineskins and fig trees. Go. Look. Think. Listen. God is speaking to you.
But we’ve grown deaf. Sin has aged us, and no hearing aid on earth could possible restore faithful ears. At least, not until Christmas.
God Speaks Again in Him
But with Christmas, God speaks again. The light shines into our darkness. The Word speaks into our deafness. And the darkness scatters, and the deafness goes silent. Our eyes and ears learn what it is to see and hear again.
This is what the Incarnation is all about: God restoring to us the ability to see him, to hear him, to know him, to enjoy him everywhere. The fullness of deity dwelling bodily (Colossians 2:9) is the fitting capstone of God’s self-revelation, the clearest expression of those invisible attributes.
“We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Invisible attributes, eternal power, divine nature — made visible, audible, tangible in a tiny child in Bethlehem town.
Things in Light of Him
But the Incarnation doesn’t stop with the baby in a manger. The Word became flesh so that we could have the world back, so that we could hear and see and know and enjoy God in the creation that we’d grown blind and deaf to in our idolatry and ingratitude.
This is why C.S. Lewis tells us that miracles, including and especially the miracle of the Incarnation, are simply “a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” Or again, in more detail,
The doctrine I understand to be something like this: There is an activity of God displayed throughout creation, a wholesale activity let us say which men refuse to recognize. The miracles done by God incarnate, living as a man in Palestine, performs the very same things as the wholesale activity, but at a different speed and on a smaller scale. One of their chief purposes is that men, having seen a thing done by personal power on the small scale, may recognize, when they see the same thing done on the large scale, that the power behind it is also personal. (God in the Dock, 29)
The Incarnation reminds us that the entire created order — heaven and earth and everything in between — is really and truly a kind of Discarnation, God revealing himself quite literally everywhere and in everything. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
What Christmas Says
But Discarnation is only the first step in this Dance. The second step, the eye-catching step, the spin and twirl that turns everyone’s head is the Incarnation. It’s God putting the period at the end of his revelatory sentence (with the resurrection turning that period into an exclamation point).
It’s God saying,
You aren’t able to hear my voice in the things that have been made? You’ve begun to wonder whether this cosmos can communicate who I am? Then watch this. Watch me wear creation like a garment. No, more than that. Watch me, the Creator, become a creature. Watch me take on the trappings and limitations of man.
I’ll join myself to this spoken world. I’ll shrink myself to the size of an embryo. Then I’ll grow until I fill a womb. Then I’ll burst the womb. Then I’ll keep growing (in wisdom and stature, no less) until I’m big enough to walk among the sons of earth. I’ll grow until I’m big enough to hang, big enough to die, big enough to fill a tomb. And then I’ll burst the tomb.
But I won’t stop there. I’ll keep growing and growing, filling hearts and filling minds and filling bodies, until you read the same story in the stars, until you hear the heavens sing and the earth reply, until you taste honey and then taste and see that the Lord is good. I will keep growing until I fill all in all.
He has come, Christmas has spoken, and now the things of earth grow strangely bright, not dim, in the light of such glory and grace. Now we know the meaning of this world, and begin to know the world through this meaning. And so the things of Christmas — the decorations and gifts, the candles and lights, the roast and desserts, our family and friends — need not distract us from him. Instead, they can be for us tastes of his glory, refracted beams from his Holy Light, echoes of the song that those herald angels sing.
Joe Rigney’s forthcoming book The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts releases next month, but an early print run is now available (and discounted) through Westminster Books.
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