The child was probably not born in what we call December, although there is really no way to know since the stories about his birth tell us more about the hopes of his followers than the details of his entrance into the world. Most likely no wise men from the East showed up, and it assuredly did not snow.
But none of that really matters. What matters is that once again, God entered the world – a joy, a miracle, and one that happens every time a child is born. This child would grow into an awareness of his connection to God that far surpasses that which most of us achieve in a lifetime, true, but it was his awareness that was different, not the connection itself. This is what we forget – that God is here with us, everyday, all around us, in every joyful and sorrowful and angry and beautiful face we meet. We see the face of God every day.
When someone we love dies, we lose one of those faces that has shown God to us in our lives. We may have had to look through anger at times, or sadness, through cruelty or rage, or just through so much of our own longings being unmet. But this face, this beloved face, however it showed it, still showed us the face of God, and now that particular vision is gone, and our hearts grieve.
My family grieves this season for my father-in-law, David Alan Atchley, who died early Christmas morning. A father and grandfather, a husband, for much of his life a workaholic, a fisherman and hunter, the face of God that his family saw in him was sometimes gentle and sometimes gruff, sometimes laughing and sometimes angry. It was a face that saw changes, not just from the course of time and age, but also from the life-giving experience of receiving a heart transplant and the life-rending one of losing a son. And with all the joys and challenges it brought, his was certainly a face of God, meant to challenge, teach and guide those around him as he learned from them as well.
So this season we celebrate the birth of the Christ child and mourn the death of David Alan Atchley. The two are tied up together: in the hope and beauty of each birth we see the inevitability of a future death; in the sorrow of a death we see the joy of a new life to come. And so with joy, with sorrow, and always with gratitude, we greet the Christ child and mark the passing of one more face of God.