RSSinclude - Feed

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Unexpectedness of Christmas

One of the reasons Christmas has had such a powerful hold on the human imagination is that it is just so incongruous. “Lo, within a manger lies, God who built the starry skies,” as the 19th century Christmas hymn puts it. Over the centuries, the surprising and unexpected story of Jesus' birth has been met with equal parts wonder and ridicule. The idea of God coming in the form of a poor Jewish peasant baby is either the most magnificent story ever told, or the silliest thing in the world.

A Northern Nativity, William Kurelek, 1976
This surprise and wonder can get domesticated by overuse. Perhaps that’s the hidden blessing in the withdrawal of the “real” Christmas story from the public imagination. We might get to the point where we can once again appreciate just how crazy the whole thing must have seemed when people first heard it. We might recover the capacity to see God in expected places, and to offer that ability to the world around us in a whole new way. 

Christmas reminds us that God simply defies our expectations. We think our “theologies” have God pretty well pegged and then something happens that we just never saw coming. 

This truth was expressed profoundly by the largely self-taught Canadian artist William Kurelek, who suffered from schizophrenia and produced some of his best work while being treated in a psychiatric hospital, and who, 40 years ago, published A Northern Nativity, his iconic depictions of the Holy Family appearing in various Canadian locations -- a fisherman's hut, a barn, a garage, an igloo. 

"If it could happen there, why not here?" Kurelek asked. "If it could happen then, why not now?" 

This element of unexpectedness touched me recently when I across maybe the best description of the essence of the Gospel message, and therefore of Christmas, in, of all places a mystery novel – The Private Patient by P. D. James.

And so I leave you with these words to ponder in this season of perplexing wonder:

The world is a terrible and beautiful place. Deeds of horror are committed every minute and in the end those we love die. If the screams of all the earth’s living creatures were one scream of pain, surely it would shake the stars. But we have love. It may seem a frail defence against the horrors of the world but we must hold fast and believe in it, for it is all we have.”  (The Private Patient, p. 395)

Merry Christmas.