Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.
“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.” “You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
—George Herbert (1593-1633), “Love (III)”
Observing Christmas as a season helps us to move beyond the sentimentalism that has become so much a part of “Christmas” and commemorate the true significance of Jesus’ birth. It enables us to see that Jesus’ coming truly transforms all things. It marked the end of the old world (under the dominion of sin and death) and the beginning of the new. And it reminds us of our new identity and purpose. We are now children of the King and are called to rejoice and give thanks and show the world the new destiny that now has come in Him. To celebrate for twelve days (as opposed to one) enables us to realize afresh the significance of what happened in Bethlehem and it declares to the world the remarkable reality that Jesus has destroyed the works of the devil and established a kingdom that shall have no end.
—Steve Wilkins, “Stretching Christmas” https://theopolisinstitute.com/stretching-christmas/
Christmas is the enfleshment of God, the humiliation of the Most High and divine participation in all that is painful, ugly, frustrating, and limited. Divinity takes on humanity, to restore the image of God implanted at creation but sullied by sin. Here is the great exchange Christmas ponders, that God became like us that we might become like God. God accepted death that the world might accept life. The Creator assumed temporality to redeem creation from futility. A hymn writer summarizes it this way:
This night of wonder, night of joy,
was born the Christ, our brother;
He comes, not mighty to destroy
to bid us love each other.
How could He quit his kingly state
for such a world of greed and hate?
What deep humiliation
secured the world’s salvation!
(“Break Forth O Beauteous, Heavenly Light,” Methodist Hymnal 1989)
—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 106-7
Come, Desire of nations come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the Woman’s conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness, Lord efface:
Stamp Thy image in its place;
Second Adam, from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
The kings have come and gone; the shepherds, too;
Now who is this still standing at the door?
An old and careworn woman, tired and poor,
So old she makes the stones themselves seem new.
She carries something in her trembling hands,
And, bending low, her eyes alit with joy,
She lays it down beside the sleeping Boy.
And then—a wonder happens! As she stands,
The wrinkles disappear, her stance grows tall,
Her head stands high; face radiant as the dawn,
She looks at Mary, smiles—and then she’s gone.
A glance at what she’s left tells Mary all—
The ancient, withered apple makes it plain:
Through Second Adam, Eve is born again.
The biblical view of worship, which governs the actual worship of Jews and Christians, is distinguished from all other religious understandings of the cultus [worship practices] by the fact that the worship of God’s people in the Bible is always represented as the worship offered by those who have been redeemed. Thus it would be no paradox to say that for us worship does not start with man, but with God, who has taken the initiative to which we respond when we worship Him. He has made His Name known to us, and so we worship that Name.
Worship takes place within the Covenant, and the Covenant is established by God on the basis of His own redemptive acts which He has already performed.
—William Nicholls, Jacob’s Ladder: The Meaning of Worship, 16-17