So it falls to me on BIG THINK to say something good and true about Christmas. Here’s a sign that we see in front lawns all across Rome/Floyd County, GA: “Christmas is a Birthday!” And it is!
Well, everyone knows that Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25. But there’s no particular reason that birthdays have to be exact. We’re not remembering the date, we’re remembering something unique, irreplaceable, something most worthy of our wonder that happened one day. More wonderful than the stars or the cosmos as a whole is the beginning of a particular life of a man or woman on earth.
A Christmas carol of Appalachian origin captures a lot about what’s singularly wonderful about what happened the first Christmas day:
I wonder as I wander out under the skyHow Jesus the Saviour did come for to dieFor poor on’ry people like you and like II wonder as I wander out under the sky
There’s nothing worse than subjecting poetry—especially beautiful songs—to analysis. But here’s a few words on each of the three lines:
To be human is to wonder and wander. The being who wonders can’t be fully at home in the cosmos the scientists can otherwise, perhaps, perfectly describe. There’s nothing more wonderful than the being who wanders (and knows it) “under the sky.” So even Jesus was quite literally born “on the road.”
He was born, for one thing, on the road to death. Why would Jesus “come for to die?” Unlike the rest of us, he didn’t have to die. What does it mean to wonder about God as a loving, relational person who would chose to die to save us from death? What does it mean to wonder about God who wandered with us for a while?
And why would he choose to die for poor, ordinary people? Why are distinctions based on wealth, status, and intelligence of no importance to the Savior? We want to say that haunting songs about our homelessness here and our longing to be at home somewhere else were fine for the Appalachian people or the oppressed slaves. We want to say we can be fully at home these days as free and prosperous and sophisticated techno-people, and so we don’t need such illusions anymore. But the truth is that we’re in crucial ways more homeless and so more poor and ordinary or uncertain of our true significance than ever—even if we have lots of money and cool stuff.
“I’ll be home for Christmas” makes us more weepy—unreasonably weepy—than ever, because we don’t give a moment of proper wonder to the true cause of our wandering.
Only if we wonder about why we wander can we be as home as we can be with the good things and the good people of this world.