I can’t get away from the “best of” lists.
Best Toys of 2015. Best Viral Videos of 2015. Best Songs of 2015. Best Movies of 2015. I can’t read through a story or watch the news without seeing an advertisement for a list that in some way is meant to sum up the year in neat bullet points.
That’s because we’re all looking back–a funny thing to do in a season that’s meant to celebrate a birth. And yet December is fraught with a sense of winding-down and tying up loose ends. Many of us view it as the last major holiday of the year and, despite the fact that we are celebrating a birth, few of us would consider Christmas the “beginning” of anything. That’s for January, for the resolutions and cleaning-up and fresh new year number in the checkbook.
But we must not forget that Christmas is the beginning of all beginnings, in more ways than one.
Advent, the season of preparation leading up to Christmas, is the kickoff to the beginning of the liturgical year. And though many folks these days are apt to long for the Second Coming, it’s easy to forget that Christmas was the First Coming: the spark that starts to illuminate God’s grand and eternal plan for His fallen creation.
With the focus so heavily on the baby in the manger, it’s easy to neuter the season and deprive this beginning of its potency and power. Christians–instinctively, I think–tend to divide up our understanding of Jesus-as-baby versus Jesus-as-savior. The cosmic moment, the violent sacrifice, the grand and undying love: we save our contemplation of those things for Easter.
But they started in the manger. And even long before then. John reminds us:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
What happens on the earthly realm is always mirrored in the heavenly one. The relative innocence of a newborn babe was the earthly manifestation of a Divine love that willingly sacrificed itself–that fulfilled the unyielding demand of the law with reckless grace. At Christmas, humans saw for themselves the first ripples of a plan for redemption that we still cannot fully grasp.
It’s not a bad thing to sit back and to reflect at the end of the year. But as we turn our attention away from the “best-of” lists and to the baby in the manger, it helps to remember that Christmas begins everything that defines who we are and how we live.
Reckless, self-sacrificing love doesn’t just belong to Easter. It inhabits our Christmas season, too.