The Wild Grace of Christmas
The Wild Grace of Christmas
Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter's Dictionary
May 21, 1993
144 pp., $10.24
Frederick Buechner has been out of the limelight for a few years now, and that's a shame. Buechner (pronounced BEEK-ner) is an American writer and theologian who wrote more than 30 books, including fiction (The Book of Bebb, Godric), autobiography (Telling Secrets), essays (Telling the Truth: Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale), sermons (Secrets in the Dark), and other nonfiction. Buechner's books have been translated into 27 languages and has been praised for its ability to inspire readers to see the grace in their daily lives. The London Free Press said, "He is one of our great novelists because he is one of our finest religious writers."
Fortunately, his recent relative obscurity is about to change. Family and friends have created a website that includes a lifetime of Buechner's writings and audio and video clips, some never before published. The site will go live next summer but is being beta tested now. You can get a sneak preview by going to www.frederickbuechner.com.
To mark the occasion and the season, the creators of the site have made available a Christmas video clipthat, in Buechner's typical evocative prose, drives home the wonder and grace of this event. It's an excerpt from his Whistling in the Dark: A Doubters Dictionary. The video can be accessed here. –Mark Galli, editor
The lovely old carols played and replayed till their effect is like a dentist's drill or a jack hammer, the bathetic banalities of the pulpit and the chilling commercialism of almost everything else, people spending money they can't afford on presents you neither need nor want, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the plastic tree, the cornball crèche, the Hallmark Virgin. Yet for all our efforts, we've never quite managed to ruin it. That in itself is part of the miracle, a part you can see. Most of the miracle you can't see, or don't....
Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed—as a matter of cold, hard fact—all it's cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.
The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space, time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God…who for us and for our salvation," as the Nicene Creed puts it, "came down from heaven."
Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.