A while ago, I decided I would score some major points as a dad and as a husband if I surprised my 2 daughters with tickets to the super bowl of childhood if you are a girl – Disney on Ice. Sophia and Evie were 6 and 4 at the time, and to them, Disney characters on ice skates is my version of getting tickets to the Super Bowl. This is a really big deal in their young lives.
So we headed down to Phillips Arena, bought tickets at the ticket booth, and sat in our upper level seats overlooking the ice and waited on the show to begin. And as excited as I was about seeing the excitement on my girls’ faces, I have to confess secretly as I sat in my uncomfortable stadium chair waiting on the fun to begin, I started to fantasize about how much better it would be to see a Hawks game or a boxing match or something a little more masculine than Daisy Duck on ice skates. And then the show began, and I found myself captivated by it, because it reminded me so much of what happens each year at Christmas.
The show began with all of the famous Disney characters that we’ve all known since childhood skating onto the ice one-by-one as everyone cheered. There were Donald and Daisy Duck, Goofy, Pluto, the bear and the feral kid in the jungle book, Cinderella and Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, Tarzan, and Bambi; this massive cast of characters coming out one at a time all singing and skating and dancing in unison with the crowd of thousands of children on their feet. As the song progressed a big white canopy was brought out to the middle of the ice; a hush filling the stadium, as all of the characters began to circle around this big, closed centerpiece. And then at the climax of the song with dozens of characters skating around under the lights and the whole crowd up on their feet – the great unveiling. The canopy opens and out comes Mickey Mouse – the one and only; the central character to the Disney Universe; the one from whom all the others came and to whom they all continue to point.
In the same way, Christmas is the time each year when we revisit the same cast of characters that we have known so long in their annual journey toward the great unveiling of the one and only. There is the virgin Mary and the visitation from the angel and the illegitimate pregnancy and Joseph along for the holy and horrible ride. There is the stern innkeeper who won’t give up a room and the cattle and sheep that become witnesses to the great unveiling in his place. There are the shepherds who were just minding their business when a whole army of angels lit up the night sky and told them what they could never have believed without seeing a whole army of angels lighting up the night sky and even then they probably wondered if old Yitzak put something funny in the cigarettes after dinner that night.
There are the astrologers/magi who see a new star and travel hundreds of miles to discover where it was pointing and no doubt wondered if their telescopes needed some serious recalibration when the star seemed to point to a barn that smelled like manure in a village that didn’t smell much different than the barn did. And to really read the Bible is to know that there are more characters there at the nativity as well; characters stretching back century upon century.
There is King David also right there among the cattle and the sheep because God had told him a long time ago that one of his offspring would one day rule forever. And old Moses is there too with his staff and his beard stumbling around because he’s old and all he ever does is walk, walk, walk; the old walking man who told Israel about a future ruler sort of like him who would rule them forever whenever they finally got to stop walking and to sit down in the Promised Land. There is Isaiah who lived through the destruction of Jerusalem when it looked like God was done with the whole salvation plan and yet he looked through the carnage and the burning walls of Jerusalem and the screaming of the innocent and saw the moment when Immanuel, the Prince of Peace, would come screaming innocently into this world to set it on fire and to be himself burned up by it. There is Jeremiah who said that one day God would wrap up all the promises he had made to Israel into a new covenant with the whole world. And somehow even Adam and Eve are hanging around in the background in their fig leaves, the ones who kind of started it all in a sense, because the whole messiah idea got rolling when God told them in Genesis 3:15 that even though the serpent got the better of them in the Garden of Eden, one day someone would have a baby that would stomp the serpent’s head to death.
All these characters that we have seen around the nativity sets and heard about in Scripture for as long as we’ve been alive. All these holy misfits, like a bunch of ducks and feral children and mermaids, dancing in a swirl and singing in unison and pointing to something, to someone in the middle, like those Disney characters on ice skates. And you know, to block out all of this cultural Christmas marketing that has diluted the holy day into a holiday; and to just read it as it was, is to see this great cast of characters circling around a centerpiece for thousands of years, waiting on the great unveiling of the One and only.
And when the centerpiece at Disney on Ice opened and Mickey Mouse was revealed in the middle of Philips arena that night, you should have seen the looks on my girls’ faces. They gasped. It took their breath away for a moment. And that’s what Christmas is supposed to do to us.
If I had to boil the Bible down into the single Greek word that appears at every turn in the stories about Jesus in the gospels it would be pretty easy. It is said of the crowds, of the disciples, of those who believed in Him and those who didn’t; of those who thought he was God and those who wanted to kill him for being a blasphemer. You could boil it all down to the Greek word, thaumazein, and it means, to have your breath taken away.
In the earliest Christian communities, when all sorts of people might kill you and your family for declaring allegiance to Jesus, very few people were literate and so there was no point of writing stuff down about Jesus. What’s more there were still plenty of people around who had seen it all firsthand. And so they would gather in caves, and in living rooms with the lamps snuffed out and someone standing guard on the roof just in case they were found out. They would gather over bread and wine and someone who had been there or knew someone who had been there would start telling the story in a whisper of the great unveiling of the one and only, and those huddled around the storyteller, both skeptic and believer, would gasp at the thought of such thing.
My prayer for each of you this Christmas season, is a catch in the throat; a gasp of wonder; that feeling of amazement that the shepherds had when their night was interrupted by the whole host of angels singing in chorus up in the night sky. They are still singing, you know, and everything in this world that is really real is still pointing to the center, to the canopy, to the great unveiling that took place in that musky barn in that backwater town to that backwoods couple. May the hilarity, the stupidity, the grace of the whole scene hit you this year like a slap in the face; a punch in the gut. He didn’t have to do it like that. But he did…maybe just to take your breath away.