i lick at the light and it soothes the
burning rage of my tongue.
but when it enters my heart,
it sets all of me on fire.
Because of God’s tender mercy,
the light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of
death, and to guide us to the path of peace.
—Zechariah the priest predicting the birth of Jesus of Nazareth
Early in my marriage I returned home after a four-day trip and from the moment I walked through the door, my two daughters wouldn’t leave me alone. They clung to my legs, climbed into my arms, and jabbered about all the things they’d done with Mommy while I was gone.
“Did you miss your daddy?” I ask, just to hear them say that they did.
“Of course,” says my three-year-old. Her sister, a year younger, nods her head and says, “Me! Me!”
So I play with them for a while and then get ready to tuck the older girl in bed while her sister gets a bath with Mommy.
I sit next to her on the bed, and she hands me a chunky children’s book.
“Read the whole book,” she says.
“Just a few stories.”
But after every story she begs, “One more, Daddy! Pleeeeeeeease?”
I read the whole book.
And then we say prayers, I tell her a story, and I turn on a CD of music for her. I was in a bit of a hurry because I wanted to meet a bunch of my friends at the gym to play basketball.
“Good night,” I say, heading to the door.
But she calls to me, “Daddy, will you sleep with me for a little while?”
“Sleep with me.”
I sigh under my breath and head back to her bed. I sit beside her bed and hold her little pink hand in my own. I’m starting to get really antsy now because I don’t want to miss the game, so after a few moments, I figure she’s asleep, and I stand up to leave.
I barely make it three steps before she calls to me again.
“Daddy, I’m scared.”
“The dark up there.” She points up at the corner of the room.
So I open the door a little wider and turn to leave.
“Daddy, would you smile at me?”
Smile at her? She wants me to smile at her?
“Um, yeah,” I say, feeling like a heartless ogre. And I go to her bed one last time and smile at her. She smiles back at me again, she closes her eyes, and, clinging to my hand, she goes to sleep.
She had missed me. That was all. And she didn’t want to be left alone in the dark.
God broke four hundred years of silence with a birth announcement to a peasant girl from the hill country of Judea. After centuries of waiting and hoping and watching and yearning, after centuries of darkness and doubt and longing, the time had finally come for the deliverer to be born. God opened up the door in heaven to let a little more light into the world. And then he smiled through the night at his children.
“Don’t be frightened, Mary,” the angel told her, “for God has decided to bless you! You will become pregnant and have a son, and you are to name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Mary asked the angel, “But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby born to you will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. . . .” Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.” And then the angel left.
Luke 1:30-35, 38
God chose this Jewish teenage girl to be the mother of humanity’s Savior. I love her initial confusion about how she’s going to have the baby. She was engaged to a man named Joseph but hadn’t slept with him yet— hadn’t slept with anyone yet. She couldn’t imagine having a baby outside of marriage. Already that tells me a lot about Mary.
And then, when the angel reassured her it was all going to happen according to God’s plan and through his power, Mary said yes. She offered herself body and soul to God, even though in her culture unwed pregnant teens could have faced death by stoning.
She said yes, and God’s Spirit overshadowed her.
the almighty overshadowed you—
bringing you light.
veiled in Spirit, he wove
himself through your soul
whispering life to your womb.
the almighty overshadowed you,
and the power of his presence
passed through you,
and into your Son.
and into the world.
and eventually into me.
you are my sister in faith and
the mother of my God.
he overshadowed you
with the fire of his presence.
For nine months Mary carried the light of the world in the warmth of her womb. And then, in a stable surrounded by a bunch of farm animals, she gave birth to her firstborn son. She lovingly wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid the light of life in the manger. As the apostle John wrote, “Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:4-5).
It’s so absurd, this king of the galaxies lying in a feed box for animals, this Creator crying in the stable. Anyone can see at this point that this story isn’t man-made. Who would ever believe it? If I were making up a religion that I wanted people to believe in, I’d never insert stuff like this. Only God could tell a story this ludicrous and then claim that it is true.
Mary’s tiny baby would separate light from darkness. This child would cause a line to be drawn in the sands of eternity and in the hearts of all people everywhere. He would shine into, and then through, the lives of all who would choose to follow him. As Jesus said later, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life. . . . I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the darkness” ( John 8:12; 12:46) and “Believe in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light” ( John 12:36).
The words of Jesus have the power to impale the darkness and create offspring of light. Life was in him, and this life gives light to the world. A world as dark as ours is in need of the light of God, and it arrived one night in a manger. All of creation had been waiting since Eden for the dawning of this baby’s birth.
And then the child grew and the word spread. He was different. So much like us, yet so different from us. We have both light and darkness threaded into our hearts. We can see both dawn and dusk in our souls, but he was light with no shadow, illumination with no night.
That first Christmas God sent a light so strong we would never have to be afraid of the dark again.
“Daddy, will you smile at me?” the children of Israel asked.
“Yeah,” said God, climbing into a manger.
touching the unseen
whisper past me,
leave me in the wake of your words,
stunned into silence, enlightened by
the wonder of your presence.
the night of your birth is a question
wrapped in a question to me.
unwrap them one by one
and reveal yourself to my soul
with the light that springs
from your ever-dawning heart.
in a whisper of light you landed in a manger
i am living for the day you will land