How does real beauty of Christ coming…break through the illusion of beauty that the season, itself, flaunts?  

 Within a few weeks of throwing my lot in with Jesus at the age of 18,  I pledged a sorority.   It was a collision of worlds, I could sense even then.   Let me see if I can paint a picture from this that sheds some light on the sheer wonder of the gospel we celebrate this Christmas.

Okay, so here I am—an ignorant freshman,  a fledgling Christian and a freshly-minted sorority girl.  

I look around at my new sorority sisters.   Hmm,  we all look the same.  Young white women dressed pretty hip,  from good-enough families,  aspiring to great things.  It’s not as snobby as it sounds—more like, “intentionally monolithic.” 

For me,  the crazy maker that became my sanity,  was a simultaneous immersion in Christian groups.   Oh my stars.  This was the widest mix of people on the planet!   What powerful force, I wondered,  could draw together the school drop-out and the scholar,  the penniless and the preppy kid?   I was in awe.   I got the message pretty quick:  only Jesus could shape in people’s hearts an actual love for that which was not like them.   I was hooked.

It was an utterly different kind of beauty that drew me.   I came to think of it as the beauty of the gospel.

Take this breathtaking juxtaposition and follow it forward with me.  There’s a story and a picture here that is worth your time.

Last Saturday my wonderful Virginia cousin gave me the gift of touring homesin Richmond’s old Victorian section (The Fan),  all decorated for Christmas.   I drove up from North Carolina to see Christmas as it’s done in old Virginia.  

I want to tell you that nobody does beauty better than Virginia.  That’s my biased opinion, but I think I’m right.   

For three hours I walk through homes with period antiques and crown moldings,  gables and front porches where people did actually sit and visit, all decked out for Christmas,  each house fit for a cover of Southern Living.   

A familiar mirage begins to take shape in my head.   I feel myself sucked into an old vision of the Good Life.   Something primal beckons.   Though I’ve known plenty of people in homes like these and I know better than most that the lives inside those homes don’t often match the decor….still I can be fooled.   The illusion seems so real:  if you can just live inside this beauty you will find love and permanent home.   

It’s crazy,  but it’s a very attractive crazy.

The next morning finds me in my regular church service back home and once again,  I experience that wonderful, right-sizing collision of worlds,  not unlike my college days.  It makes my head spin in a needed way.

Here sit, once again, the people of God.  We are quite the crew.  Where else could you find,  in the same setting,  the Duke professor,  a child crawling in the aisle, and a woman wearing an elf hat?  I mean, really.   Preaching and music and sacrament come together in a deeply-cleansing whole.   This beautiful gospel of a beautiful God with nail prints in his hand.  I am converted all over again. 

I give thanks for this God who came to get me so long ago now, taking on my ugliness that I could share in his beauty.   Yet one more time in my life,  I trade the mirage for the Real.

I would suggest that something like this is happening for you in this Christmas season.   In some way,  two different visions of beauty—of reality itself—collide inside you.    

My hope for us both is that the beauty around us will draw us to the true Source.

            Nails, spears shall pierce Him through.

           The cross be borne for me—for you.

           Hail, hail the Word made flesh,

           The babe, the Son of Mary.