I am walking in Chicago, on a surprisingly balmy evening, looking for someplace to eat. (It is not as easy as one would think. Most restaurants close when the commuters leave.) There is a smattering of walkers, mostly overdressed against the truant cold. Some converse with each other. Others, alone and preoccupied, hurry on.
I’m not in a rush. I have always loved a downtown at night, with the glow of lit buildings. Christmas decorations add another layer of gleaming beauty. I do note, though, when I glance up to see the moon, that God did this illumination thing first.
When I turn a corner, I see a brilliant gate to a crowded square. It is the Christkindlmarket. Curious, I approach and enter through the arch.
I quickly realize that the crowd is too daunting for me. It is a mass of shoulder-to-shoulder people, not unlike this window display of nestling figurines I find just inside the entrance. I’m not prepared for this kind of close contact.
Thankfully, across the street, there is a trendy, urban food court. I go in, and over some chicken adobo, I ponder Jesus’s entry into our world. The words of John come to mind:
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (John 1:9-11)
The king of glory came into the world he had created. He came to save a jumbled mess of humans, all wandering in the dark with shoulder-to-shoulder needs. And though he was the true light they longed for, they didn’t recognize him. Nor did they receive him.
There was no celebration in the halls of power. No festival of lights. On the night of his birth, only a handful of outcast shepherds bent their knees in obeisance.
On the way back to the hotel, I stop to take in an intense, flashy display. Behind a tree that seems to be more lights than actual tree, behind the garish blue landscape, a huge screen runs a looping video of dancing Santas. Unable to hear the accompanying music, I find them frenetic and oddly aggressive, as if they’re desperate to force holiday cheer on me. (Back off, big guy!)
There is a hollowness to this kind of “joyfulness.” A falseness to this light. I wonder how much of our modern Christmas trappings are but a distraction from the quiet reality of Emmanuel.
John reminds us in the verse that follows the quote above that to all who received him, who believed in his name – who recognized Jesus as their true king – “he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12) Or as the hymn puts it, “Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
Into the crowd of sins and blind spots and developing devotion in each believer’s heart. Into a similarly jumbled mix in the congregations of his people.
Jesus was never daunted by a crowd.
Lord Jesus, you are the true light. In you we do see the Godhead “veiled in flesh.” We receive you, we welcome your gift of sonship. In the midst of our lights and our activity, we quiet our hearts in worship and hail the incarnate Deity.