I had the privilege of writing a lesson to be taught to students at my church this Christmas. I share a portion of it with you.
At this time of year, mystery seems to be all around. Wrapped packages hold secrets, tantalizing us with the mystery of what is inside. Many mysteries more just more readily accepted. How does Santa manage to do his job so well? Who was the anonymous donor? Who is your “Secret Santa”? Secrets, surprises, and mysteries just seem to be a part of the spirit of Christmas. In fact, Mystery is reason for the season.
I have always been drawn to mystery. My first favorite book was a mystery. Many of my favorite television shows and movies involve mystery. The idea that something is beyond my understanding is somehow a comfort to me. But at the same time, that mystery actually compels me to try to understand. Mystery motivates me to know the unknowable. J.J. Abrams, the creator of several of these mystery-themed shows I enjoy, gave a TED talk several years ago, and in it expressed many of these same ideas. He shares with the audience a mystery box he purchased in his childhood yet remains unopened. In asking himself why he has kept but never opened this box he answers, “… it represents infinite possibility. It represents hope. It represents potential.” He also says, “mystery is the catalyst for imagination.”
So when Paul writes in Colossians 2:2-3 that he wants the believers there “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” he is telling them and us that the unknown is knowable. He is inviting humanity not just to imagine but also to explore the mystery, which is Christ. The invitation was not a new one even to the church at Colossus. It was the invitation, the plan, God had from the beginning. He wanted his creation to know its Creator. And Jesus was the mystery wrapped in flesh.
That is the miracle we celebrate at Christmas and hopefully every day – that a mystery opened its own ethereal box and dressed in something familiar so we could understand as much as possible.
Now, I’d like to tell you about another box, one that taught me something special about Jesus.
Three years after spending a semester in London, I returned on a short visit and followed my feet to a few of my favorite spots. While wandering, I stumbled on to a beautiful thing. There, just outside St. Martin-in-the-Fields, was a large cube. I had no memory of it being there before. Of course, I was intrigued. From a few yards away, all I saw was this perfectly smooth box. I took a few more steps and realized that carved on the side, wrapping regally around in block letters were familiar words. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I took a few more steps. I stopped. I was close enough now to see the roughly textured top of the otherwise perfectly smooth shape. At eye level, in the center of the rough terrain was a breathtakingly realistic carving of a baby boy. It was as if the top of this box had been broken off and at the center of the mystery was a newborn child who lay partially within the stone, the umbilical cord running in to the stone itself. This sculpture taught me more in a momentary glance than reading or study ever had.
I later discovered the sculpture was commissioned for the millennium and put in place only days or weeks after I departed in 1999. The piece is by sculptor Mike Chapman who said, “It seemed to me that a tiny life-size baby carved from stone in such an enormous environment would be the best way to remind us all of just whose birthday we were celebrating.” To me, it was more than a reminder of “the rock from which you were hewn.” (Isaiah 51:1) You can see a photo of a portion of the sculpture here or below, but I fear it will not do the experience justice. Because I experienced this on a level deeper than words, I cannot really convey the lesson to you with them.
The words of John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in the prologue of the Gospel cannot be bested. They convey, as best words can, the self-existence of God, the holy trinity, the nature of humanity, and the plan for the redemption of man. They tell us about a mystery that loves us. They tell us about Jesus.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
If you want to know more about this story, about Jesus, click here.