Every person’s life involves a story and a mystery. One of the reasons Christmas is such a poignant holiday for all, young and old alike, is that Christmas involves both a story and a mystery.
What does it mean to say each human life is a mystery? It means there is a truth about each life that is deeper than anything another person could see from the outside. And yet something of it can be seen from the outside, as an individual’s life story unfolds. Over the course of a year, ten years, or a whole lifetime, more and more of that deep truth breaks through. The story of a person’s life tells us a lot about who he is, why we he is here, and where he is headed.
Ever since I was a boy, I liked to read the newspaper articles that come out during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, reporting the most important things that had happened during the year that was ending, and predicting what was coming in the new year ahead. Such reports mirror our individual lives: birth and death, victory and tragedy, some things gained and others lost.
When we feel this mix of joy, sorrow, and questions about the future, it’s a good time to remember the words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
We come together at Christmas to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus. Jesus was born at the end of one age and the beginning of another. But He is not like some “Baby New Year,” celebrated in the news because he or she is the first baby who happened to be born after midnight on January 1. Jesus’ birth does not come at the end of one age and the beginning of another by chance. Jesus’ coming is the reason one age comes to an end and a new age begins.
Why is Jesus’ birth so special? To answer that question, we have to ask a more basic question, the key question of Christmas, posed by another beloved Christmas carol: What Child is this?
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