At the foundation of my Christian faith, there lies a fundamental belief: there is more to this life than what we can see.
People can be found all over the place on this spectrum of thought. For some people, what you see is what you get. Observable evidence equals truth. Anything beyond that is speculation, or worse: a wishful-thinking fairytale. At the other end of the scale are those who are most intrigued by the unseen. For them, our material existence is an illusion, a counterfeit reality that masks a superior life to be lived on an unseen plane. The goal is to escape this illusory and meaningless existence in order to level up to a better life.
I can’t accept either of those extremes. And perhaps that’s why I love the message of Christmas: Immanuel—God with Us. The divine positions itself amidst the mundane.
We were put here on this planet, the material world, with a purpose. It’s a beautiful home, designed for us as a place for us to thrive and to exercise our true nature as those made in the image and likeness of God. But something went horribly wrong (sin/the fall), and the planet spins slightly off its axis, tilted just enough to throw everything off so that we know it’s not quite right, yet we still catch occasional glimpses of what it ought to be. We can see the physical, but it is much more difficult to track the spiritual.
Jesus came to reconnect the two. To restore what was lost and reestablish our true identity; to help us see our existence for what it is: as human beings, we live right at the intersection of the visible and the invisible.
Why do I believe this? I’ve asked myself that question on many occasions, and over the years, have come up with many different answers. Some of them would sound a lot like Christian apologetics, which I’m a fan of; it’s important to know why you believe what you believe. Some of my answers would come from a far more subjective place; I could talk about experiences I have had—encounters with God, if you will. The kind that would make some people nod knowingly, and others smile politely. But recently, the answer that is most compelling to me (it might not be the “correct” answer, or the most convincing to the skeptic, but it is the most honest) is that I just have to. The thought that we might be all alone—mere biological accidents pinned by gravity to a rock randomly hurtling through the vast emptiness of space—is depressing at best, and horrifying at worst. I’m not equipped to cope with life on those terms. I need more than that. Desperately.
As a result, what we call the Gospel—the Good News—resonates deeply with me. This narrative—which begins with Immanuel, the God who condescends to make a personal appearance in the form of a helpless baby, and continues on as the story of a simple working man, then a great teacher and miracle worker, then an executed criminal, and finally the One who saves us by overcoming it all—confirms that there is more. And, even better, I don’t need to do something remarkable in order to escape all of this, but rather He Himself has intervened so that I may live fully right here where I belong, until such time as I am invited to continue on to the next glorious stage in the journey.
How one views (and celebrates) Christmas then becomes a microcosm of how one views (and lives) life itself. If this is all there is, then this holiday is nothing more than a cultural tradition: parties, decorations, days off, songs, special time with friends and family. All good stuff; in fact, some of it is even great stuff! But when it’s over, it’s over—for the next year, at least. Life then becomes something very similar: enjoy it while you can, and squeeze as much goodness from it as possible while you still have it.
But if there is more, and the Story is true, then Christmas is so much more than all of that. It includes all of the fun stuff, but it’s primary role is to remind us of the truth of who we are: fragile beings living in the midst of both beauty and tragedy, just like Mary, Joseph and the shepherds in the stable on that long-ago night. And like them, we find ourselves to be recipients of the greatest possible gift: Immanuel; Jesus, the God who chose to dwell among us. The holiday in this case simply reminds us of the unseen reality that is so easy for us to lose sight of: there is more, and it’s always around us, 24/7. We are not alone, and this isn’t all some big cosmic coincidence. Rather, each of us has been painstakingly woven into a much bigger, greater story of infinite purpose and beauty.
May the upcoming celebration of Christmas restore our vision and enable us all to see anew the great gift of eternal life that is ours today, and on Christmas Day, and every day, forever.
The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
— Matthew 4:16, NIV