At the end of the year, I find it refreshing (and a bit frightening) to come to a holiday that points to the most momentous bit of news the world has ever heard. Assumed familiarity with this news, and the legion of pressures and distractions that engulf us, have dulled its impact. The dullness, however, is ours. The news is sharp and weighty. The first recipients of this news—an odd cast of characters, including a Jewish carpenter living in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town in Palestine, a teenage girl from the same obscure town, a pregnant senior citizen, a group of shepherds, an old man named Simeon, an elderly prophetess, and a group of Gentile astrologers from the east—did not miss the weight. Witness Simeon’s response to the message: "My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" [Lk. 2:30-32, ESV]. Nor did the first hearers miss the sharpness. Look at the old man’s words to the teenage mother: "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed" [Lk. 2:34-35, ESV].
Our cultural marketplace sells many bromides that pose as the Christmas message. Let us not be fooled. The real thing is hearty food, bracing drink, and fresh, crisp air. It is the news that God's eternal Word of life was made manifest, that his express image was stamped, definitively, into the tender medium of a baby’s flesh, so that through him we might receive pardon and healing, and our world would be renewed.