o, silent night: reflections on the birth of Christ

In a season of rejoicing and celebration, I pray that we may not neglect the weight of the Truth of the birth of our Lord and Savior, who left all majesty to be born in a manger. In Christ, we see God denying Himself all lavishness to lavish Himself on us. A self-giving, other-serving, sacrificial love.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Mary Did You Know?” particularly because it echoes the question that I’ve often pondered as a child: “why Mary?” What was so special about this young lady, that God would choose her to nurture our Lord? Was she a good enough mother for the Savior of the world? Did she honor Him as she took care of Him?

an unworthy mother

Yet as these thoughts lingered, one Truth remained. And the Gospel Truth is this: that God’s choosing of man is never dependent on any good that is in us. But that Grace means that the gift is unmerited, unearned, free.

It is never a question about whether Mary was a worthy mother for Jesus. Because the Christmas Story reflects the same Story of Redemption uncovered throughout the Gospel: that it did not matter if Mary was capable of nurturing this Holy Child. No, in fact, Mary was a young virgin when news came from the angel that she was going to conceive. The Story is not dependent on who Mary was, but rather, on who this Child was: He is the Promised “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6).

the Gospel Truth is this: that God’s choosing of man is never dependent on any good that is in us. But that Grace means that the gift is unmerited, unearned, free.

The story of Mary, as the story of every Christian – of you and me, is a story of Grace. It is not at all about Mary’s patience in bearing this Child, nor her innocence, or even her submission to God’s will, that rendered her worthy to carry the Savior.

Rather, her unknowingness, her inexperience, her littleness, is what makes this Story so unconventional. We don’t, and perhaps won’t ever know if she was a good mother; whether she was a good cook, or a great storyteller. But this we do know: that God chose her, and that it was Him who caused this Virgin to conceive. An impossible act, surely, but made possible – for is He not a God who is the Cause of All Things?

an unworthy manger

To then ponder upon how this God of the Universe came – friends, I have no words. Grace is the single thread that flows throughout the Gospel, and such is portrayed even in the birth of our Lord.

For though God of All, He came to serve. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Born in humble beginnings in a manger that was unsuitable for this Holy Child – I wonder how we can ponder upon this Story and not fall on our knees? Oh, how I hope the thought of this makes us pause and think about how easy it is for us to think that we deserve good things! How such thoughts are but lies.

For even the Maker of All denied Himself all lavishness that He surely could afford. Instead, the filthiness of that manger was what ushered our Lord into the world.

Then again, is this not the state of all of our hearts? Filthy? Yet did God not come and make a dwelling in the confinements of our filthy hearts?

For even the Maker of All denied Himself all lavishness that He surely could afford. Instead, the filthiness of that manger was what ushered our Lord into the world.

an unworthy child

C. S. Lewis writes, “The Son of God became a Man to enable men to become sons of God.” Such is the grief that Christmas somehow bears. That the Son of God left all majesty to come to us.

We speak of Christmas as a time of rejoicing – and surely it is. For the long-awaited Messiah had been born. But such had not been without sacrifice. It would not have happened if He had not laid down His glory, the confinements of His throne, to trade it for the filth of a manger.

And what for, if not to bring us to Himself? Unworthy children, now adopted into the Household of God. Not by our merits, but His kind, lavish Grace.

a silent treasuring

So what shall our response be? I love that the story of the birth of Jesus is told with much rejoicing, as the shepherds and wise men would come and celebrate Him, bearing gifts and praises.

Yet in the midst of such a celebration, Luke 2 tells us of how Mary, that unworthy mother, simply “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (v.19). The same sentence we would see again, in the next few verses, when the Child would grow and tell her that He must be in the Father’s House. Though she did not understand what He had meant, Scripture mentions that she kept His words in her heart (v.49-51). This is perhaps, a posture, that Mary had from the beginning, when the angel came to tell her of how she would conceive: “behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your Word.” (Luke 1:38).

While others spoke of this Child, and even voiced their wonderings; even as He grew, some uttered their amazement, while others, their cynicism. But this unworthy mother stayed by His side, from the manger to the cross, and treasured these things, His words, in her heart.

So Mary, did you know — that God had, from the start, orchestrated such a magnificent plan of Salvation, by entering this world through your virgin womb?

Perhaps. Or perhaps not. We may never know. But what she did know was to treasure the Word of God in her heart. The Word spoken to her, and later, the Word made flesh in her.

And so this is my prayer. May this Christmas season only bring us to ponder upon this Truth of the Gospel: that we may treasure the Word, who had first been spoken of, and who had then come in the flesh — may we treasure this Word, who is Christ, deep in the bosom of our (still, filthy) hearts.

For unto us this Savior had been born.
And so unto Him shall we live.
May this Christmas season only bring us to ponder upon this Truth of the Gospel — may we treasure this Word, who is Christ, deep in the bosom of our (still, filthy) hearts. For unto us this Savior had been born. And so unto Him shall we live.

(For my Christmas reflections in 2017 click here.)

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