There are so many things that Christmas implies and proclaims that we could ponder it for quite some time without the story losing its luster. One of the things that I have been moved by this season is the danger of assuming things about God. In a way we all have our stock lenses that we use as we attempt to make sense of the infinite and transcendent; we are perpetually reworking our equations and grids, moving coefficients and plugging in new data to try and maintain some footing in a world that seems so slippery. But despite those tendencies, if Christmas teaches us anything it is that we assume things about God at our own peril.
The Old Testament offers several stories of God speaking, using His audible voice to communicate with the world. He spoke in the creation story, in the beginning uttering words that would become matter, as He said “let there be…”. He spoke to Moses through a flaming piece of shrubbery, giving the reluctant leader instructions and revealing His own identity as “I am”. That same Moses, along with a million freed slaves, would hear the voice of God from the top of a mountain as it sounded like epic claps of thunder and looked like an angry, unpredictable weather system. In Job’s story we see God speaking out of a tornado as He comes to reveal Himself to His suffering accuser. The prophet Elijah is confronted by these kinds of signs but then actually finds God speaking in the stillness, in the quiet, unexpectedly passing up the wind and the earthquake for more tranquil tones.
All of these means and methods God used to speak to people and to the world. But into the Bethlehem night air God spoke in a way that was far different than anything He had ever done. After four centuries of prophetic silence, into a dark world that was desperate for light and hope God chose the most unexpected means of talking to us that could be imagined: He squalled. The crying of a baby boy from the animal shelter was not just the voice of the child that would become God or would become the Messiah or would one day be qualified to save the world. Isaiah’s prophecy is very clear:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
The child was the Son all along, for the Son became a child that night. The squalling and crying and coughing and cooing was not from the lungs and lips of an infant that would become something or someone special, but from One who was at that very moment infinitely special. God shed tears of hunger, thirst, discomfort, and need as He drew His first breaths of human air. As audacious and bizarre as it seems and sounds, that baby was God. And God’s first “taste” of human experience was to weep and cry just like any other baby would. Certainly the shock of emerging from a womb is disorienting enough for a normal child, but how must it have been for one whose origins prior to fertilization were eternal glory?
Into our lives God speaks. He is not silent, He is not invisible, He is near and present and active. But sometimes, perhaps, we should put down our ciphers and close the book of equations that we have clung to so dearly as we’ve tried to convince God to work within parameters that we understand and are comfortable with. Sometimes we should begin to look around for the place where we would least anticipate hearing God speak, for the “last place” we’d expect to find Him working. Christmas reminds us that often our assumptions about God become blindfolds that keep us from seeing Him.
Keep watch friends. Listen closely to the squalls of babies. Let the corner of your eye continue to scan the night sky over the sheep fields. Don’t ignore and rationalize away the unexpected stars. For it is in those places that we least expect, and in the mouths of those we would never suspect, that God tends to show up in the most profound and hope-inspiring ways. Christmas invites us to assume nothing and expect everything; to extract ourselves from formulaic answers and take nothing for granted; to roll away the stone from the hole where our imagination and hope have been banished and believe once again that God is near and there is more going on than meets our eyes.