“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining…” Sometimes a moment is so powerful that a hush falls over the crowd. Sometimes a whole throng of people turns, as one body, to stare slack-jawed at the sky. Christmas is such a moment.
It’s a simple story, quickly sketched in just 3 chapters of Matthew and Luke—147 verses in all. And yet, 2,000 years later, we still catch our breath to hear it told. Embedded in the little tale is enough to ponder annually for millennia. Here are a few takeaways from the greatest story ever told.
Christmas is a mystery play. Like the medieval acting troupes who traveled town to town and performed stories from the back of a rickety wagon, all of the characters in the drama are humble folk—their costumes tattered, their astonishment not eloquent, but too stunned for words. It’s not sophisticated, it’s hardly Shakespeare. Christmas is like a comet over a trailer park. But this is a moment when the curtain is pulled back to reveal far more unfolding than what first meets the eye. Christmas is an opportunity to see eternally.
What is the significance of your little life? More than perhaps you assume. Mary, a teenager still helping with household chores, never expected to be greeted by Gabriel, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). Joseph, a carpenter, never planned a daring escape to Egypt with a baby king in tow. Surely the shepherds were surprised to encounter a choir of angels interrupting their vigil with sleepy sheep. What if the world is much bigger than we know? What if our lonely nights are seen by the unseen? Jesus said, “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” (Mark 8:18) Strange things are afoot in the invisible realm. Perhaps Christmas is a little nudge to fix our eyes on what is unseen.
Christmas is a story—the story—of epic proportions. God, who dwells in unapproachable light, becoming God with Us, Immanuel. Although the miserly innkeeper banished the Son of God to a stable, the entire host of heaven was flabbergasted. They had seen God in all of His glory; they knew the shocking descent He made. When angels—magnificent, mighty beings—proclaim the glory of God, and a cohort of kings ride hundreds of miles to humbly worship an infant in a backwater barn, you know something extraordinary has happened.
Have we lost our sense of wonder? Here’s an opportunity to find it. Jesus exhorted Martha of Bethany to find the one thing that is best—to sit at the feet of Christ and gaze in adoration. Christmas is as good a time as any to begin.
The bitter resentment of her fiancé, the scorn of a watching community, the hardships of a long journey by foot, the murderous hatred of a petty ruler—from the moment Gabriel vanished from sight, Mary had to contend with one tribulation after another. How could a young, inexperienced girl endure such a pile of adversity? As she put it, “he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:49-53).
It is God who gives strength for the weak and humble to stand firm, God who brings down our adversaries, God who satisfies our needy hearts. When we face insurmountable odds, we ought to remember the odds stacked against Jesus from birth. “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3).
Many of us struggle at Christmas with the weight of past heartbreak or present discouragement. Some would prefer to dodge the whole spectacle, pull up the covers, stay in bed. But aside from all of the secular rigmarole attached to December, there is at the core of the occasion, light. Isaiah 9:2 sets the stage: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Jesus did not appear in a happy time. His people suffered under an oppressive Roman regime. God had been largely silent for 400 years of His children groaning. Where sin and sorrow reigned, Christ came “to disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.”
Christmas is not primarily for the perky; it is for the destitute, the longing, the meek, the broken. It affords all of us an opportunity to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is…. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). Here for a moment, in most spectacular fashion, God broke in to our darkness and flooded the world with light. We have a choice to gaze on our losses or lift our eyes to the One who entered our sin-sick world to rescue us from it.
Even our largely Christ-less culture has mandated a nationwide pause at Christmas. We who love Him may take advantage of the chance to slow down, still our racing hearts, and make room for wonder. Eugene Peterson has said that “Wonder is the only adequate launching pad for exploring a spirituality of creation, keeping us open-eyed, expectant, alive to life that is always more than we can account for, that always exceeds our calculations, that is always beyond anything we can make.” If we want to be “alive to life,” we will allow our soul time to breathe, our eyes to see the miracle crashing in at Christmas (and every day.)
“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices, oh night divine, oh night when Christ was born.”
 O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
 O Holy Night
Catherine Morgan lives in Aurora, Colorado with her husband Michael and three kids. She is the author of Thirty Thousand Days, published by Christian Focus Publications. Visit her blog at catherinesletters.com.