As the advent season nears its climax, I have naturally found myself assessing our efforts at focusing in on Jesus, particularly this year, as James has reached a new formative age of questioning and understanding. Whether it's been a specific gift from the Lord or just my eyes being more open to it (or both), in the past few weeks of hustle and bustle, I have found Christ in some rather unexpected places...
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to watch the rather polarizing movie, "The Tree of Life" which came out earlier this year. It's certainly not for everyone, not due to its content but rather due to its style. The movie is more impressionistic than narrative, but if you're in the right mood and open-minded, I highly recommend it, plus, it contains some of the most spectacular images of the grandiose natural world juxtaposed with some of the most poignant images of every day life that I have ever seen on film. The interplay between the two is the crux of the movie. Though far from a Christmas film, the idea is that the most significant of human dramas--in this case, a small-town Texas family with 3 boys in the 1950s, dealing with the untimely death of one child--can seem like a speck in the scheme of the cosmos (Job 38:4, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth..." is the opening frame); however, the glorious nature of God is that He takes our inestimably small existences and pours himself into them as if they are the only thing in this world. Christ in the form of a baby, laid in a manager, naturally came to mind. The most humble scene, the tiniest speck in comparison to the universe, was the setting for the most powerful of all human dramas to unfold.
I also had the chance to watch another movie recently that is more specifically Christmas-themed, though also pretty unconventional. "The Star of Bethlehem" is closer to a lecture than a feature film, but it is arguably much more compelling. This discussion of the veracity of this mysterious Christmas symbol was of particular interest to us this year as we even themed our "Happy Birthday Jesus" party around the star. An attorney/Sunday School teacher took a critical approach to finding external proofs for the Star of Bethlehem in scientific, historical, and astrological realms, and what he found is pretty astounding. Moreover, the images and prophecies from the Bible that he has found in the stars of the ancient night sky (using some unbelievable new computer programs), from conception to the crucifixion, paint a glorious picture of the poetic and tender way in which God has orchestrated His creation. For me, this has enlightened a new sense of magic in Christmas, far more magical than any Santa-theme, Coca-Cola commercial could ever portray. As believers in Christ, believing in things that are so real and yet so unseen, this time of year is particularly striking to revisit those signs and wonders of our faith, looking past the familiarity and pondering them anew like a small child on Christmas morning.
At the beginning of December, we posted a playlist of Christmas songs that we love to bring out year after year (here). This has been on heavy rotation in our house ever since. To me, one of the most beautiful songs is also one of the most unexpected. "Winter Song" is a duet from a completely secular "holiday" album of singer/songwriter types from LA, recorded live at a famous venue called the Hotel Cafe, performed by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson. I have listened to this song for years now, particularly being drawn to its beautiful harmonies and almost melancholy tone, while feeling slightly guilty that it had found its way among all the regular Christmas favorites. This year, in the vein of looking for Christ in more unexpected places, I took a closer look at the lyrics of this song, and I was surprised at what I found.
"This is my winter song to you. The storm is coming soon; it rolls in from the sea. My voice a beacon in the night. My words will be your light to carry you to me. Is love alive?"
I have always just heard this as a secular song about love and love lost, totally fitting for the climactic scene of a Lifetime Christmas chick-flick, but what if you hear these words spoken from God to His lost creation, sending a hopeful, if not pained message, foreshadowing the coming of Christ and His inevitable sacrifice. It goes on...
"I still believe in summer days, the seasons always change, and life will find a way. I'll be your harvester of light and send it out tonight, so we can start again."
I began to wonder how I ever assumed these words just belonged to a love song since this song seems more appropriately descriptive of Christ than of any pining lovers. Also, the imagery of Jesus as the "harvester of light" may be one of the most vibrant descriptions of Him that I can think of. At its most basic level, the plan of Christmas was to ultimately rescue us, the lost creation, to start again and bring about a second chance to have a relationship with God.
"This is my winter song. December never felt so wrong because your not where you belong, inside my arms."
The joy and the beauty of Christmas overshadow the reality of the pain and sacrifice that Jesus suffered in coming to this Earth. The heartbreak of the Father in letting Christ go was only overshadowed by His heartbreak at losing you and me. December represents the bittersweet hope that though the Son and the Creation are not with the Father, some day, we all will be.
In these final days preceding Christmas, I pray that you will find moments to look upon the world around you and find Jesus in all of it. As Christmas people in a "Black Friday" world, this season can seem so marred, so tainted, but take heart knowing that the God who created this all will not be contained or silenced, from the moments of every day life to the spectacular natural world, from the stars in the night sky to the words of a love song. The name of His son has been written on all our hearts from the beginning, and every story we tell whispers His name, but sometimes we have to stop and listen for it.