(first published 12/23/16 here at The Rebelution)
Listen, Christian. You know that this festive season, for all its glitter, has a center that shines more brightly still. Each Sunday you sit in church hearing the familiar tale, whether dressed in eloquent implications or described with dirt and straw and the warm breath of livestock.
Every Christmas Eve you stand in the circle of saints, and maybe for a moment the people around you are transformed by the shadows from everyday blessings and irritants into a holy company of adopted royalty.
Or maybe not.
Maybe balancing a hymnal in one hand and a candle in the other, you wince at the out of tune “O Holy Night.” The wax always drips past the cardboard and burns your hand and you wince again. Here you are another year, shifting on your feet, knowing that you are celebrating sacred humility, but once again the tale seems trite. You feel vaguely guilty—shouldn’t this be powerful? But after all, life’s not a hallmark movie and you’ve heard this story a thousand times.
Overuse will cheapen any tale, won’t it?
And after the hurry of the season, it’s hard at this last moment to feel it the way you should, so you harmonize with the hymn and blow out the candle and go home disappointed.
Oh, Christian. Listen!
Your soul wakes up slowly. Unattended, it slides back towards slumber easily as your body. This is both no failing—we humans are all the same—and the greatest failing—we are dull to glory.
You know this, don’t you? You’ve heard and read of people in awe of the Gospel despite a lifetime of knowing it. Now and then, it catches you by surprise, too, and your soul sings. But the moment always passes, and you seem unable to know your hope as you go about your life. So listen. Listen, Christian.
Don’t drift unresisting back to muddled dreams.
This story is the greatest, most glorious reality in all that is or may be. It is a tale too good to be true—and you are living it.
A king whose grandeur defies description forsook His deserved glory and came to be mocked, hated, and murdered. He did this for the ones who spat on Him. A song that began at the dawn of time reaches a crescendo at Christmas. And now, Christian, insist that your soul sing along.
Press in. Prepare. Tell yourself the story. Picture it, preach it, present it the most rousing way you know how. Imagine it in color and gritty detail. Read the accounts and savor them slowly, pondering each moment. Hunt for the indications of your King’s character. Write it, pray it, memorize it. Speak it to your brethren and ask them to speak it back. Sing the songs as you go about your work and in hushed quiet, watching the stars.
Before every sermon, shout to yourself: Hear, O my soul! Hear the raging merciful glory of your God, and rejoice! Demand from your soul the only reasonable response—abject wonder, adoration. Demand it because you know it is merited whether it comes easily or not. Do not fret when your humanness feels no awe—you are a vessel of clay—but do not give up, either.
While you are human here, you must work for wonder, and His grace will meet and fill you to do that work.
You cannot command ocean swells to knock you over, but you can stand on the seashore, and you can step deeper into the water. It will come without fanfare, but that is how you will honor Him this Christmas—by seeking to capture a larger glimpse of Him.
Rehearse this in yourself, and the Christmas Eve service will not find your soul sleeping, or stuttering awake at the last. Instead, for all its mundane details, Christmas will find you awake, eyes wide to catch every glimpse of angels’ wings.
Do not settle for faint affection, Christian. Sing to your soul until it sings back. And when it does, praise the maker of the song.
Listen, Christian. Do you hear it? Listen with all your might!
A newborn King is crying.