I have always enjoyed the tradition of giving and receiving presents at Christmas, although I must admit the reason why people do it has escaped me, if indeed it was ever within my grasp. But I do believe that Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection on this earth was God’s colossal gift to mankind.
Sound strange coming from a yiddishe maidel*? Well, both of my parents are Jewish believers in Jesus. So it’s not so unusual for me to be thinking such things.
The idea of God taking humanity upon Himself is an outrage to some and bewildering to others. Theologians speak in terms of the Incarnation, Kenosis and Hypostatic Union. But no word or collection of words can ever adequately explain the mystery of God stepping into humanity, leaving footprints on this earth which are at once human, and yet nothing less than divine.
I had a dream a few years ago that gave me a new perspective on Christmas, on the Incarnation.” Many people dream dreams, see visions. Some feel that such things are but a fleeting collage of images sensible only to one who sleeps. Perhaps they are right. But perhaps God does send some of us dreams now and then…to help us understand what we can not grasp when we are limited by the inhibitions and the worldly wisdom of our waking hours…
In my dream, I stood on a sandy shore somewhere in Israel. I looked off into the distance with a sense of growing anticipation and excitement. Why? Because I was soon to meet Jesus, face to face! What would he look like? What would he say? What would I say? I was excited and nervous. I squinted into the bright sunlight, looking for some sign of his coming.
At last, a tiny moving speck in the distance began to resemble the outline of a man. I wondered if this could possibly be him, but as the figure approached, I sighed with both disappointment and relief. This was not Jesus, it was only an ordinary man. He stopped and looked at me and I thought perhaps he would speak. But no, he looked at me as though he, too, were waiting. I thought maybe he was waiting to meet Jesus also, and I asked him, “Do you know when Jesus will be here? I’ve heard he will surely pass by this way.” His answer was plain, and given without hesitation. “I am Jesus,” he told me.
It never occurred to me that he might be lying. That simple statement carried authority, and I had to believe it. But my disappointment must have been apparent. This ordinary looking man, Jesus? He was so nondescript that I can’t even recall enough to tell you what he looked like. I only remember his eyes, because as he read the disappointment on my face, those eyes were filled with sorrow and pity. And as I looked into his eyes, they spoke directly to my heart. He gazed at me and he made me understand how appropriate his appearance was.
That any physical beauty, any human aura, could begin to reflect the splendor of the Almighty is unthinkable! His appearance among us had to be ordinary, because no human appearance could possibly describe him. He looked into my eyes as through the windows of my soul, and I had no doubt that this was Jesus. I was awed by the love that motivated him to confine himself in this form. His ordinariness became for me the most glorious sight I had ever beheld, for I now understood its sacred meaning. And I was ashamed, so ashamed that I had expected some sort of spectacular superman. I know that no mere human form could do God justice. I had been presumptuous in expecting to recognize Jesus by something special in his physical appearance. No longer able to look into his eyes, I looked down—down at my feet, at the sand, any place but into those eyes that had seen right through me. Yet, he continued to gaze at me, and I was compelled to look once more into his face. As I looked at him, I knew that he forgave my stupidity—that he loved me and wanted me to understand him better. And I did understand, and it made me glad.
Well, such was my dream. Yes, perhaps to some it sounds like no more than “a fleeting collage of images sensiblle only to one who sleeps.” And yet, in my waking hours the dream comes back to me again and again. I re-experience the wonder of Jesus’ love, the paradox of his humility, the dignity with which he bore our iniquities. And I’m amazed. I am truly amazed by the enormity of God’s Christmas present—the reality of His presence among us.
My fellow Jews scold me and say that it is a sin to believe that a man could be God. Most don’t realize that I agree. I have never believed that a man could become God. But I believe that God lacks neither the imagination nor the means to be and perform things beyond our comprehension. Neither is He lacking in love, that He should reach out to us. And, if the Master of the Universe who spoke the world into being chose to care for that world, chose to cry out over the tragedy of that world, chose to commit Himself to the salvation of that world, it is just possible that He could also choose to come into that world and be Immanuel, God with us…couldn’t He?