The birth of Jesus united earth and heaven in startling and beautiful ways. One can read the story, quite rightly, as a perfectly ordinary birth story, or at least as ordinary as the miracle of life can ever be. While Mary and Joseph have, shall we say, a complicated family situation, she gives birth with all the pain, beauty, and mess of any other birth. Joseph must have been a proud father.
One can also read the story as a singular event in human history, a manifestation of God’s presence in a particular place. This birth is accompanied by signs and wonders. Angels proclaim God’s glory. The heavens shine forth with a star to lead travelers from afar to visit young Jesus. This birth seems anything but ordinary.
Both stories are true, of course.
Jesus is fully human. He enters our world in the most vulnerable way possible, as a tiny child. Jesus is born in a remote backwater of the Roman Empire, a place that few people look toward as important. He comes into the world surrounded by family and ordinary people, not kings and courtiers.
Jesus is fully divine. He enters our world in fulfillment of ancient prophecies. Jesus is born as the culmination of dreams and miraculous births, the heir of David and promise of Israel. He comes into the world surrounded by angels and wondrous signs.
When we celebrate Christmas, we must hold both truths in tension. We cannot forget Jesus’s humanity, nor can we forget his divinity. It is precisely the union of earth and heaven in this one person that changes everything.
We worship a God who is not remotely gazing upon us, uninterested in our hopes and fears. Instead, our God is willing to get right into the thick of it with us. Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, knows every human frailty and sorrow. And he knows every human joy and strength.
As we sing in the Christmas carol,
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
In Christ, our hopes and fears are met—not just at Christmas but every day for all eternity. That is worth celebrating. Happy Christmas!