As I reflect on the meaning of Christmas my thoughts take me back to past Christmases. Intermingled with those old memories are mysterious touches of God’s presence. I distinctly remember as a sixth grade boy walking through ice-cold air from our church’s Christmas Eve service down to the parsonage where we lived. A church member had given me a gift and I was in a hurry to unwrap it. It was a plastic model kit for a 1939 Ford hard top roadster. I was so thrilled. My first model car. That gift now lodges in my memory as a token of what it means to be on the receiving end of grace.

Many years later that boyhood experience would return to my consciousness as I would leave my own church’s candle-lit Christmas Eve service and walk out into the wintery, star-filled nightscape. My heart would be full from the echoes of carols, the moment when I kneeled at the communion table with my family, and the whispered “Merry Christmas” blessings at the exit as people scurried off to their own homes. Distant memories and current experiences all mingled together to evoke wonder at the gift of salvation embodied in the Christ child born so many years ago.

So the wonder of Christmas and all that it means for me personally is encapsulated in the word “mystery.” Not as in a “who-done-it” novel where the protagonist’s identity is revealed upon the story’s denouement. Rather, for me “mystery” points to the revelation and appearance of the Messiah who redeemed humanity from the dark shadow of the curse that rested upon it.

I am convinced that the significance of those subtle numinous experiences in my past emanate from that first mystery that trumps all mysteries: a baby born to a virgin, asleep in a feeding trough, who was and is God in the flesh—this infant who would live His life in perfect obedience to the Father who sent Him. And when the fullness of time had come He died in my place at Calvary. He did this because He is the very embodiment of love and grace, rescuing that which is un-deserving of rescue. No wonder the Apostle Paul in pointing back to the first Advent wrote: Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory” (1 Tim 3: 16 NLT) This is the revealed mystery, Jesus, the hope of the world, who has come to redeem us. And it is this mystery that means all the world to me, which for me is the very meaning of Christmas.