Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so the old saying goes. Just the same, we choose to behold (read: pursue and acquire) what we think is beautiful. Unfortunately, for so many of us, we have given little attention to what the Bible says about beauty. While Christians may have read the Bible for years, I wonder, when it comes to beauty, how many of us have been shaped by magazine covers, movies, and prom nights more than God’s inspired Word?
Christmas may be one exception. Somehow amid the glamor and glitter of our hyper-technological and plastic age, we see true beauty in the way people made in God’s image express care for and sympathize with the plight of others. During this season of light, hearts soften as temperatures drop. Lights flicker and trees shine as snow covers the dormant ground. Songs of peace, joy, and love replace those filled with lust, violence, and heartache. With Christmas comes a kind of beauty absent in the other months. And even when materialism gets in the way of the Messiah, there remains a splendor to the season.
Still, the world’s version of Christmas does not hold a candle to the beauty of our Savior’s birth. Seeing such beauty, however, requires eyes opened by God’s Spirit to behold it in the dust-covered and dung-scented birth of Christ. We enjoy seeing quaint manger scenes, but Stuart Townend is far more right when he sings, “From the squalor of a borrowed stable, by the Spirit and the virgins faith, to the anguish and shame of scandal, came the Savior to the human race!” Such a vision of Jesus’ earthy beauty readjusts our understanding of beauty, and may in fact serve as the starting point for rightly discerning where glamor ends and beauty begins.
Dirty and Despised
In Bethlehem at that time, our infant Savior and his travel-weary parents would not have looked beautiful. Mary’s child was not warmly received by all.
Still, this was the way God intended it. In the tired faces of Mary and Joseph shone the radiant joy in their child, the promised one whose life fulfilled the words of Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” In this way, their glory was not found in what they saw, but in the words they had heard and believed, and had now come to fruition in the baby who slept in the feeding trough.
God’s beauty looks different than we might expect. While angels sung of his arrival, God again reached out to the dirty and despised. He invited shepherds to be the only visitors permitted to the labor and delivery unit. In time, men of stature and renown would come to worship, but even their fullness of joy demonstrated a poverty of spirit. For how else could these wise men bringing great riches bow the knee to a child who had not yet been potty-trained? They did not come in power and prestige, but in pursuit of the veiled beauty of the Christ child.
The beauty and glory of Jesus’ birth is seen in contrast Caesar Augustus. In the headlines he was counting heads to prove his power. Meanwhile, the God who knows the number of hairs on every head (without counting), was sending his Son into the world. The contrast could not be more stark: Men counted matches in the dark, unable to benefit from their potential light, while the God of infinite light hid himself in the dark flesh of Jewish boy, one who came into the darkness to show his light to world.
Walking Through Wal-Mart
Such a story shocks us, who lust for man-made beauty. Walk the aisles of Wal-Mart this Christmas season and look around you. Retailers want you to be impressed with the glittery lights, new toys, and improved electronics. But keep looking. In front of you, behind you, next to you, bumping into you are men and women made in the image of God who—-lets face it—-may not look all that glorious. But don’t stop there. Go to the restroom mirror, and you will find someone whose glory, whether dawning or waning, is ultimately fading. Every human bears the potential for radiant light. We are matchsticks, but apart from Christ, there is no spark.
We vessels of clay are the ones Jesus came to save. He offers us rest, pardon, and peace. It is my hope that this December, Christians might consider afresh what it means that the God of glory has come to take residence in our world, and more personally to dwell among people whose actions and appearances are often ugly. Such is the beauty of Christmas.