We only get one first impression at anything. There is no going back to re-live or re-experience them. They fade over time and all of the experiences between the first one and the present form an entirely new impression. We lose that sense of wonder, fear, amazement, or intrigue. Instead you become comfortable, at ease, or maybe apathetic or annoyed.
Except when we get to experience something through the eyes of someone else. Parents get glimpses of first impressions through their children. We get a snippet of them through introducing friends to something or someone. And we get them through stories and memoirs. It’s not the same as a full first impression, but it’s enough to waft a bit of that feeling our way.
That’s what makes the story of Nicodemus so wonderful. For those of us who grew up in the church, phrases like “born again” are so rote they’re nearly meaningless. But then we hear them through the ears of a first-timer. And all of a sudden they’re weird, like, really weird. And intriguing. We don’t realize it until Nicodemus asks about crawling back into his mother’s womb, then, all of a sudden, the phrase has life again. It inspires curiosity and sparks questions. How can I be born again? What does that even mean?
Christmasmakes me think of this too. A virgin giving birth to a king who is God in a barn and laying him in a food trough while a whole crew of angels sings to the lowest class of people in the land and an astronomical wonder happens in the sky overhead. It’s the stuff of poorly costumed pageants, over-dramatic church readings, and secularized breathy pop diva renditions of carols. Until you look at those words.
We need a little Nicodemus in us when we look at the Christmas story. Wait, what happened? You know it’s not humanly possible for a virgin to have a baby. You know Kings aren’t born in barns. Why would angels sing to shepherds? And what in the world is that ball of fire in the sky? If it’s true, it must mean something big. It must be so much more than tinsel and egg nog, warm fuzzies and Bing Crosby, family and friends. It is either the trippiest fantasy tale ever told or the story of something life altering. But it can’t possibly be trite. Nicodemus would tell you that. He would tell you it’s nuts or it’s captivating, a lie or the deepest truth. Because he would be seeing it for the first time.
I am exhausted of the renditions of Christmas I have seen for years. They are empty and dull to me. The songs ring hollow and have been ruined by repetition and having been sung 140 different ways by 140 different artists. The pressure of gift giving and the craziness of holiday shopping is enough to make me want to be a hermit. The war on Christmas and the war on the war on Christmas make me want to head butt a reindeer. Wake me at New Year’s Day.
But I feel guilty about feeling this way. I know what Christmas means. I know Christmas carols poetically unfold the gospel of Jesus. I know we give gifts to commemorate the perfect gift God gave to us. I know it should be the best celebration of the most significant birthday in history. And I feel guilty for not feeling its significance. That’s why I want to be a Nicodemus. I want to see it for the first time, or at least see it through someone else’s eyes for the first time. I want “virgin birth”, “laid him in a manger”, and “heavenly host” to waft the feeling of wonder and amazement my way. The story is simply too good to be tired of it.