Madeleine L’Engle calls Christmas, “The irrational season.” She is not referring to the irrational behavior we often exhibit during this season. Crazy we are, but it is not the irrationality that is a by-product of our greed or our busyness that inspires L’Engle’s poem. The focus of the short verse is the rebellion of Christmas against enlightenment.
I do not sleep well. I spend many nights wondering around the house, going from room to room, thinking, praying, watching the most boring thing I can possibly find on TV in hopes that it will someone put me to sleep, or finding a couch to just lay there.
One night late last summer I was awakened by the barking of a dog somewhere in the dark shadows in front of our house. There was nowhere in the house I could go that I could not hear him. Sleeping was out of the question. If I can be honest for a moment without being judged by dog lovers . . . I just want to be real. I went upstairs and stood within the frame of a very large window staring into the darkness, searching for the dog. If I could locate the dog, I could kill said dog!
I never could see the dog even though my eyes were adjusting well to the darkness. I could hear him and if he chose to move at all, I was certain to notice the movement. But then he stopped barking and I was left with only a pitch black silent landscape. There was this pause. Maybe it was because I was now focused more intently trying with any of my senses to find the dog, but it made the silence and the darkness that much more acute. Then it happened.
The darkness was interrupted by a light so bright I could discern the colors of the trees, plants, houses, everything within my view. It was not lightening. It lasted too long, several seconds it seemed. It also didn’t flicker like lightening seems to do. Here is the weird thing, the light was moving.
You know how a car passing your house, or a tree, will cast a moving shadow as the car goes by? As the angle of the light changes, the shadows move. That’s exactly what happened. Even though the light seemed as bright as the sun, I could discern that it was coming from a source behind my house which cast a shadow of the pitch of the roof across my driveway and into the field below the window. The shadow quickly moved from right to left.
What was that? I quickly raced down the stairs not only replaying the image in my mind, but running all of the logical scenarios – shooting star? I’ve never seen one that bright that lasted that long. Car? No way, too bright and no car actually passed my house. Missile launch? Who knew that The Pentagon had missile launch sites in Chatsworth, GA? Low flying plane? There was no sound. And then it hit me about the time I walked out on my back porch . . . UFO? Well, at this point if aliens had landed in my backyard they would have to take me in my boxer shorts and I would have to defend myself with an iPhone.
I know what you may be thinking at this point. Why does the Pastor of Liberty Baptist Church walk around his house in boxer shorts and an iPhone in the middle of the night? If that is what you are thinking, I need you to concentrate on the bigger issue here . . . there may be a UFO in my back yard. By the way, the dog was still silent – hopefully dead or abducted by aliens.
There had to be a logical explanation, but I was coming up empty. I will admit, the whole thing freaked me out, to the point that I was afraid to tell anyone about it, even my wife. Should I tell her that a dog was abducted by aliens in our neighborhood. We just moved into this house. Would we now have to defend it from space invaders? For the next few days I recalled the light and the movement of the shadows. I couldn’t figure it out.
Late that Saturday night the lead story on the Chattanooga 11 p.m. news, “Massive meteor explodes over Cleveland, TN. The light could be seen for miles.” AHA! I yelled. I then confessed everything to my wife, what I had seen, and my fear of telling her about it. Yes! A meteor explosion, it makes perfect sense, no big deal!
That’s our problem. Everything has to make sense to us. Everything needs an explanation. This is why, for us, there are no more “Irrational Seasons” to enjoy. Enlightenment has murdered amazement. A meteor explodes 20 miles from my house and I am relieved that is all it was. Cool? Absolutely, but not amazing.
The same thing that makes us run outside onto our porch in our boxers armed only with an iPhone to search for aliens also explains why we are no longer amazed at Christmas. Instead of standing in my window and worshiping God in that moment by simply saying, “Wow”, I was influenced by every stupid sci-fi movie I have ever seen (confession: Signs has forever freaked me out), every scientific article I have ever read, every intellect who has ever lectured me, every ounce of inescapable cultural cynicism in which I have been raised. I forsook awe and did what I have been conditioned to do, search for answers.
Christmas at its core, “is the irrational season.” L’Engle’s full verse reads as follows:
This is this irrational season.
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.
Perhaps this is why we are so drawn at Christmas to movies that challenge us to “just believe.” In Elf, belief makes Santa’s sleigh fly. In Polar Express, belief enables you to hear the bells on Santa’s sleigh ring. In The Santa Clause it is forsaking an adult reality and returning to the belief of a child that helps Tim Allen’s character embrace becoming The Claus.
Belief rescues us from a dark, soundless world raped of wonder and makes things “bloom bright and wild” again. The problem with movies is that it is impossible to hold our faith in fiction. Once the credits scroll upon the screen, we are reminded of what our momma always told us, “It’s just a movie.”
But what about the irrational season of Christmas? Perhaps you are convinced that the Jesus story is also just fiction trying to impotently hold our faith. Maybe you are like I was when the meteor exploded, no longer considering simple “awe” but instead filling our heart with reason and consequently crowding out the Christ child. If so, perhaps you would agree with me, that we have lost one of the greatest gifts God gave us, amazement. Without amazement there is no worship. Without amazement we have no place for faith.
What has caused you to dismiss the amazement of the “irrational season?” Is it the science of the whole thing – a virgin girl giving birth? Is it a dose of heady theology you have heard – the Hebrew word doesn’t necessarily mean virgin, but rather young girl. Is it the total lack of amazement we find in the modern church, or perhaps her people – hypocrites aggravate, they do not amaze. Has the irrational season been forever skewed by tragedy – if there is a God, why is my life miserable instead of amazing?
We need desperately to be amazed.
If you struggle with the amazement of Christmas, join me this Sunday, 8:45 and 11 a.m., at Liberty Baptist Church in Dalton, GA. I will be looking at this topic of amazement and belief in the irrational season. I will be using several popular films that challenge us to return to belief, much like the version of belief we had when we were children. We will have a conversation about science, hypocrites, tragedy, and culture – all things that tend to destroy amazement and belief. We will be looking at the irrationality of Christ’s birth and how it beckons us to be amazed and believe.
If you can’t join us on Sunday. I will have audio and video posted on this site very soon. May God bless you. I pray that you will be amazed this Christmas.