The Weather Report

 

     I was talked into it. Better said, I was influenced. If I agreed to do it, there was the promise of a surprise. A young couple in the church of my childhood was getting married and they chose me to be the ring bearer. At six years old, I did not have the foggiest idea of the means to the end, but it was the surprise I coveted.
     Long story short, I was miserable. I vowed then and there, “Never again.” I do recall two things from the experience. The first was the veil covering the bride’s face. The suspense and the eventual unveiling, which revealed the face of the young woman responsible for my being on the dais that day, was most fascinating. The second was the surprise—a carton of extra-large, multi-colored Purity Dairy balloons. It was a benefit of the bride’s father’s employment at the dairy of that name.
     The bride’s veil is a thing of the past, yet it is an apt image for the word “mystery” as it appears in scripture.  When Paul speaks of his insight into the “mystery of Christ,” he does not mean a mind-stopping conundrum or perplexity.  He is not pointing to a riddle to be solved.  Instead, he is offering the insight into something not fully revealed, the meaning of which is partially hidden or veiled, if you will.  The apostle uses “mystery” to denote the ever- wiser knowledge of God.
     On the battlements of Elsinore, Shakespeare’s Marcellus speaks of the time of Jesus’ birth. The English bard evokes such mystery. “Wherein our Savior’s birth is celebrated, the bird of dawn singeth all night long: and then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad; the nights are wholesome; then no planets strike, so hallowed and so gracious is the time.” The birth of Jesus was a hallowed time, he says, or a holy time. It was a time when what had been hidden was revealed. It was a time of unveiling, revealing God in the flesh.
     The meaning of Christmas does not concern niggling niceties, but the most fundamental of all matters: God became flesh. A bedrock principle of Islam is that Allah could not become human. This fundamental claim of the early Christians led the Greeks to dismiss them as simpletons and Christianity as some backwater mumbo-jumbo. In undertaking to explain this truth, some Christians veered and ended up in a briar patch. Paul declares that in Jesus of Nazareth the fullness of the invisible and uncreated God dwelt among us bodily. (Colossians 2:9) 
      As Christians, the Incarnation informs our living.  Where this truth becomes the lens through which the believer views the world, the sheer existence of stable things offers one the occasion for sacramental discernment. Or as a friend puts it, “Christians are summoned to detect God’s creative and redeeming likeness in earthly and heavenly things.” Belief in the Incarnation shapes the imagination.  Through the lens of God-enfleshed, signs of God at work in the world and in our lives appear like balloons of many colors floating all around.  
     I do not pretend to grasp the mystery of Christmas, the meaning of which has not been fully disclosed, but the Incarnation does have the power to shape the imagination. The veil was lifted at the birth of Jesus to reveal God among us.  Shall we dust off our spectacles and dare see the world through this mind-boggling Truth? I promise you will be surprised.
                                                                                                                                                                                              —Steven