Christmas is marked by an aesthetic of beauty and wonder. Our home is decked with strings of sparkly stars. There are real pine cones interspersing the garland along the wooden stair rails, and our glowing tree is (arguably) the best on the street.
But that tree is actually dead. “Dead as a doornail,” as Dickens remarks of Jacob Marley. This conifer will not drink water (yeah, I cut the base when we brought it home). If you breathe too close to it the dry needles fall like bristly daggers.
Christmas beauty is sometimes only skin deep. It’s easily marred. One minute my family is enjoying the Advent calendar’s marking of the days. Then my four kids start fighting over who gets to place baby Jesus onto the scene. Then I get mad and raise my voice…
Which is why baby Jesus had to come in the first place.
The Cosmic Violence of Christmas
Our cell group from church met last night. We gathered around the beautiful yet dead tree when I broached the evening’s topic of “the dark side of Christmas.”
We then looked at the four Gospels, paying attention to the dark notes of resistance, violence, and pain marking each account of the coming—the Advent—of Jesus.
The Incarnation of Christ was an incursion, an invasion. The birth of Jesus was an assault. And the territory invaded was cosmic darkness. The realm assailed by that birth was the realm of Death.
MARK: The heavens were ripped open…
When Jesus rose from the baptismal waters of the Jordan, the sky overhead was split apart. Through this puncture wound in the heavens came the Spirit as a dove. For Mark, this violence in the sky involves the in-breaking of God into a domain of sin and demonic activity.
MATTHEW: You shall name him “Yeshua”…
When Matthew that Joseph is to name the baby “Jesus, for he will save his people…,” it would be hard to miss the connotations of divine conquest. Jesus is the anglicized version of the Greek Yesous, a Hellenized version of the Aramaic “Yeshua,” synonymous with the name we know as “Joshua.” The name means “God Saves” because of the military victories of this ancient leader.
And the realm Jesus invades to enact rescue is the realm of cosmic evil: “he will save his people from their sins.”
JOHN: The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…
In classic Johannine irony we read in John 1 that the entry of the Co-Creator Word into the world he co-created was greeted with resistance, and, perhaps even worse, a mild disinterest.
But make no mistake: this incarnation is an incursion. The Light is invading the Dark.
LUKE: A sword will pierce through your soul…
And Luke reminds us that the Dark’s resistance to the entry of Jesus is found within our own souls. Even Mary, the unmistakable heroine of Luke’s infancy narrative, will have her own soul injured by the Advent of Jesus, her son.
It is a welcome piercing. And the incursion is a welcome incursion. The invasion of Christ into Death-realms and into the darkness of our own souls brings salvation. “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
And he is ripping through the heavens to finalize the rescue…