Jesus said many paradoxical things. For example: Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Mat 10:39). For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it (Mat 16:25).
The basic rule of life the Lord announces is that when we want something too much, or very insistently on our own terms, we can never possess it. Rather, it possesses us. Only when we let go of our obsessions are we free to enjoy the true gift the Lord is offering. Indeed, many of our insistent and worldly expectations become the cause of our resentments. Some of God’s greatest gifts come to us in unexpected ways.
C.S. Lewis wrote,
Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead …. Even in social life you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making …. Give up yourself and you will find your real self … [but] [y]our real self will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Christ (Mere Christianity Book 4, Ch. 11).
At Christmas we often think of gifts, what to give and what we will receive; but this misses the truest point of Christmas, which is to look upon our Savior, Messiah, and Lord. He became flesh to show us our truer self. In thinking of Him and looking to Him, we find our truest self. The truer self we find, though, may be very different from some of our grander, worldly notions. Indeed, those self-delusions must be lost, pruned away; they must die for our true self to be found.
We have to stoop low to find Christ; we must seek Him humbly, and look for Him in humble places. He is found in Bethlehem, a tiny village in the shadow of the great Jerusalem. Even there He is in no comfortable dwelling, but out in back, down at the lowest end, in a cave behind a house, a place where animals are kept. Having descended into that cave, we must stoop still further, peering down close to the ground into a manger, a feeding trough. There we see Him.
Yes, there He is, devoid of earthly glories but with heavenly light shining through Him! Seeing Him, we see ourselves. Having descended, dying to earthly notions of life, having “lost” our life, we find it; and we see our own truest glory on the beautiful face of Christ.
Scripture says, For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor 4:6) And we, who with unveiled faces reflect the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His image with intensifying glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18).
Here is the perfect gift, that we should decrease and He should increase; that dying to our own glories and shedding the masks we like to wear we can now reflect His glories.
Perhaps a picture will help. For this, we turn to the master of light and darkness in painting: Rembrandt. In his “Adoration of the Shepherds” (above right) see how Christ is the true source of light. His light is reflected on the faces of those around Him. This is our greatest glory and our perfect gift, to reflect the glory of the Lord with faces unveiled. To reflect this glory, the shepherds had to journey through the darkness, stoop down low, and die to their expectations of where a King should be born. In the darkness they see Him and they reflect His glory with unveiled faces. The greatest gift, the perfect gift of Christmas, is pictured here. They reflect not their glories, but His.
May the perfect gift of Christmas be yours, be mine, be ours.