Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
’Tis the season for year-end lists and I’m here for it. Best albums, songs, and artists. Top films, TV shows, and plays. Favorite books, podcasts, and documentaries. Reviews of historic events, technological innovations, religion news, and sports highlights. The year in pictures, including comedy wildlife photography awards! Summary tributes to famous people who died in the past year.
If it seems morbid that I’m interested in those who died this year, I’ll simply observe that I’m not the only one. I view it as an exercise in appreciating those who’ve enriched my life, as well as remembering that I too am mortal and that each day is a gift.
One list that you’re not likely to see in these year-end recaps is a list of the most important births of the year. I suppose someone could generate a list of the offspring of famous celebrities, brilliant intellects, or athletic superstars. But such a list wouldn’t be worth much because past family fame or success is no surefire predictor of the future.
Imagine, then, if you were alive in the Roman Empire during the year Jesus was born. While you’re at it, imagine that the empire did year-end lists. It’s extremely doubtful that the birth of a peasant-child in Bethlehem would have registered six miles away in Jerusalem, let alone the 2,500 miles away in Rome. No one in those days expected much of anything to come from the village of Bethlehem.
With the benefit of 2,000 years of history, we may fancy that we would have seen it coming had we been alive. But we flatter ourselves. Phillips Brooks had it in his lyric, “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heav’n.” Though God is certainly capable of making a splash, God often chooses to self-reveal gently and quietly.
Why does God prefer to work incognito? I believe Emily Dickinson’s poem above offers a deep insight. A full revealing of God’s incarnation in Jesus would have overwhelmed human free-will. God chose instead the path of gradual dazzling, lest we be overrun. So as we celebrate Christmas and enjoy year-end lists, may we remember that “No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still, the dear Christ enters in.”