An Ugly, Beautiful Truth About Death, Birth, and the Hope of Christmas
Imagine taking a piece of paper and drawing a line down the middle. On one side, there is a heading titled "Created." On the other side, the heading reads "Uncreated." Now, let's start listing.
Under created, we could write eggs, carpet, cars, the sun, your mother, your cat, stars, your mind, heaven, ideas, coffee, the universe, and time. Literally, everything we know and have experienced is created.
On the other side of the paper, under the heading "Uncreated," there is one thing we could write:
God is the only one that is uncreated.
Here we can see that God is different and unique, utterly set apart from anything we have experienced or ever will experience.
Over and over in the Old Testament, we are reminded that God is holy. Holy means to be set apart. To be like no other and consequently separate from all others.
On a Holy night, unlike any other before or any other since, our Holy God turned an astounding page in history, and the world hasn't been the same.
This past Fall, our church engaged in a corporate reading of the first five chapters of the Bible. We immersed ourselves in daily readings from a version of Scripture that did not include headings, notations, or verse delineations.
We read the story.
Full disclosure. Some of it bothered me. Moving through those stories rapidly allowed one to see a pervasive pattern that can be missed when parked in a chapter or a book for more extended periods.
What I noticed was this––
God is big.
You didn't mess with Him.
You respected Him.
You respected His space.
On His terms.
And you did not come near Him.
Not on a mountain. Not in a temple. And not even when He chose to reveal Himself through a burning bush.
We read in Exodus, Chapter 3:
“Then the Lord saw that he [Moses] had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am." "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."
Did you know that when God repeated Moses's name, scholars believe it was meant as a term of endearment? Just like when Jesus said, "Martha, Martha." or "Simon, Simon."
And yet immediately after this term of endearment, God said, "Do not come any closer."
Imagine if a friend intimated that they cared about us and immediately followed up with, "but don't come near me?" Those two do not go together. This is when we remember that God is like no other.
Jackie Hill Perry asks us to ponder what could have happened to Moses if he had become so comfortable with God, he chose to approach Him on his own terms. She says,
"We can all relate to being so comfortable with the love of God that we forget or don't believe that God is holy."
We focus on His love at the risk of dismissing His holiness.
Moses knew not to come near God, but that didn't stop him from longing for and eventually outright asking to come close.
In Exodus 33:18-20 NIV we read:
“Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
The Holy God, who LOVED Moses, would not allow Moses to come near Him or even to see His face because it would have killed him.
This backstory lends tremendous significance to what we celebrate Christmas Eve. We could not come close to God. So, God came to us. The uncreated God became created. He changed His form. He made Himself completely vulnerable so that we could approach Him.
The word Noel stems from a Latin word that means "to be born."
Jehovah Jireh, Yahweh Nissi, Jehovah Raphe––all those many beautiful names for God from the Old Testament found themselves in the company of a new name for God when Jesus was born…
Immanuel. God with us.
Unfortunately, the busyness that often accompanies this time of year can cause me to forget the significance of what happened that first Christmas.
For me, a time of year that God means to be joyous can become a time that depletes me and, dare I say, can even depress me. And that is why remembering is essential.
Remembering revives hope.
When we remember…
God is Holy.
God is love.
And God loves us in a holy way that is unique and completely different than anything we could ever fully comprehend or emulate. A Holy love that drove Him to come down here with us.
And not just with us but IN us.
This incredible, big Holy God allowed Himself to become a vulnerable newborn, a baby who could be touched. A baby who needed to be touched.
This Holy God is still making Himself vulnerable to us today.
Being born in a barn is one thing. What God continues to risk is His offer to be born in us. And yet He gives us the ability to reject Him.
This is astounding. Noel takes on a whole new dimension when we realize that Christmas can occur on any given day, at any given moment in any one of us.
We just have to want it. And then the God who created us will be born in us.
This. Is. Noel.
I long for Noel but I’m reminded that birth is messy business. If we've given birth, we know it. If we haven't, we need only ask our mothers for confirmation of this truth. It's strange, but it took death to teach me an important lesson about birth.
When I lost my dad, I couldn't believe how hard it was. I didn't expect that. I didn't think that the actual process of dying would have to be so ugly.
Seven years later, when my mom passed away, it was worse. She was in so much pain. For months after her passing, I wrestled with God over this.
"Why?! She loved you, Lord? Why did her death have to be so hard?"
And then, one day, He whispered, "Sometimes that's what birth looks like."
I know that the day my mother took her last breath, she was born into a new life. The birthing process was not what we would have hoped for, but the funny thing about birth is that we don't remember the pain.
Sometimes this life is hard. Relationships get messy. Finances are a wreck. Christmas looks different from what we want it to.
But God says we can be born again. I can't tell you how it all works. But I believe in the miracle of Christmas. And any pain we experience today is fleeting. We have Noel to thank for that.
May this be our prayer––
Noel for us.
Noel for the World.
Noel this Christmas.
[Some of this post's content is based on Jackie Hill Perry's incredible teaching from her talk, "Oh Holy Night." Take a listen. If you have 30 minutes while wrapping gifts, baking cookies, or driving to be with the fam you’ll be glad you did!]