Right now, I am writing this surrounded by a hive of little brothers, five of whom still believe in old Kris Kringle. It’s barely dawn, and they are here, looking at the presents and trying to guess what they have received from Santa. They won’t know until Mom and Dad get up in another hour or so. The waiting enhances the wonder of the season.
Christmas is a time of wonder, especially for the young. The glittery packages, the whispers of parents, the wonderful food and special movies and family gatherings of the time, a whirlwind of wonder with its focus on one larger-than-life character: Santa Clause. Santa Clause is the embodiment of childhood wonder, with his sleigh and reindeer and child-specific omnipotence and, most especially, his ability to deliver to every child on earth exactly what they want for the holiday in only one night. Santa is wonderful and magical and special, a sign of innocence and joy in a world that too often seeks to steal away the joy of children. Look around at the rash of cynicism, depression, anxiety, and anger that hang over so many adults these days. Santa seems the antithesis of all that, at least as long as someone believes in him.
But there’s the issue. We stop believing in him. Around ten or eleven, we realize that Santa’s handwriting looks a lot like Dad’s. We realize that the clatter on the rooftop sounds more like Mom throwing rocks over the top of the house than the pitter-patter of reindeer feet. We lose the wonder, perhaps for good. The supernatural glow of Christmas gone, we may turn to pure materialism, the gritty natural world that too often disappoints us. But wonder is so necessary for us. It’s the glow of not only this season, but all seasons. It’s the balm to so many ills in the world. We need to find a mature reason for wonder again.
And for that, we need to look at the Reason for the Season.
Can there be anything more wonderful than the Incarnation? Think of it, though I’m sure you already have. Think of it deeper. It’s the whole of Salvation history. First is the terror and grief of the Fall, and centuries of human anguish and misery. It’s the call of holy men and women, each given a promise: He is coming. Through years untold of work and pain, obedience and disobedience, sin and repentance, the promise is repeated. There is evil in the world, but One is coming who will blot all that out. Finally, after a brutal conquest by a pagan empire, a supernatural being appears to a normal young woman, telling her the time has come, and she, the most average and nondescript of creatures, now must be the center of humanity as she carries God Himself to His people. She assents, as does her betrothed, and they travel on a dangerous journey to a place that does not welcome them. There, in the rudest of hovels, she gives birth to God, our Messiah. Heaven is ripped open. Angels cascade to Earth, singing of God’s glory and the gift of His presence among us in this little baby, born to live, and die, and live again, born to set us all free.
And in that instant, everything made sense. All the good and the bad of history is seen in Christ’s light. The wonder of the Incarnation lies in the dichotomy that man is fallen and broken, and yet unbelievably blessed and honored. We are the only race that has sinned, but we are the race through which God came into the world. We can count Caligula, Attila, and Hitler in our numbers. But we also count Christ, and His goodness and holiness outweighs all the evils of mankind. There is not a single bad thing that God cannot glorify and make holy. There is not a single person who cannot be redeemed. The redemption we seek for ourselves is worthless. But the redemption that Christ gives to us is living and effective for all peoples at all times, even for those who died before He was even born. The Incarnation is the single greatest event in human history.
Christ is not an empty wonder, not a smear of handwriting or a clatter of rocks. The wonder at the coming of God into our frail humanity is not smoke and mirrors. It is not meant to trick us or keep us in the dark. The Incarnation is a wonder that illuminates everything in the world around us. Every sin and sorrow, every triumph and joy, every unique human soul has been painted with the colors of the Incarnation. It’s a vibrating, pulsing, alive thing, omnipresent to human history. It is real. Truly real. As real as flesh and blood. As real as the God who became so for us.
The Incarnation inspires everyone, even Santa. It is Christ who called the holy bishop Nicholas to the priesthood and later to the bishopric to lead His flock. It is Christ who gave him the power to withstand persecution and imprisonment. It is Christ who inspired him to engage in the work of the difficult council of Nicea, where the beliefs of the Church were finally codified. It is Christ, the God-Man who entered human history, who was the wonder of St. Nicholas. He should be the wonder of us all.
So be filled with wonder, my dear friends. Be filled with the faith, hope, and love of this season. Let it carry you into the year, because every Sunday, Christ comes again in the gifts of the altar. The Incarnation is eternal, after all, not tied to a month like Santa Clause is. St. Augustine famously said that we are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song. I would add to that that we are a Christmas people, and Gloria is our song. Glory to God in the highest! He has come to set His people free.
Merry Christmas to all!