Friday, December 24, 2010

The Pain And Hope Of Beauty

There is an ache or sometimes even a stabbing pain felt when I encounter beauty.  From what I've read of the poets, and others who write of these things, this is not an odd occurrence, but rather, I think, a common one.  It is as if something or someone wonderful has been lost and there is a deep longing to be reunited.  As a Christian, this makes sense from the standpoint of the fall.  Humankind has lost the deep unencumbered communion with God, and so we are reminded of the depth of this loss when we experience this aspect of him reflected in his creation.  Most of our lives are spent in the mundane, doing what needs to be done to get on with life, over and over again.  This is not a bad thing, but there is a sense that there is so much more.  As Lewis said,
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
I've been thinking of this as we come near to Christmas.  How Jesus arrived in the mundane, giving up the glory that was inherently his.  We like to doctor up the story, either in the direction of the ethereal, almost otherworldly birth with no pain and Mary serenely looking over baby Jesus all beautiful, neat and clean with light emanating from their faces, or in telling that he was born in a barn with animals and mayhem all around, along with a nasty innkeeper who wouldn't give Mary and Joseph a room for the night.

The facts are just a bit too boring and mundane for our desires.  Mary and Joseph were probably staying in a relative's home in the lower level where the stores and animals would have been kept.  (The Greek word translated 'inn' in Luke 2 can also be translated 'upper room') We know there is a manger from the Gospel of Luke, but we don't know if there were any animals around.  We don't know how long they were there before Mary gave birth, though the story is often portrayed in our movies and books that they made it to the 'stable' just in time.

God has chosen largely to work in the mundane.  Jesus came into this world, like many babies before and after, in a house with two parents who loved him.  Mary and Joseph were working out their life in the context of their faith and vocation in the culture in which they were born, just as we do with our lives.  In the midst of all of this are sometimes signs, such as the beauty of a piece of music, or a dream with a message, but signs are pointers.  They point us to the one who has returned to glory and splendour, even as he is preparing us to enter such a state.
1 John 3:2
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

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