Snow seems to be part and parcel for how we celebrate Christmas. Wherever you look, snow is part of the Christmas theme whether it is found on Christmas cards, decorations in stores, or in the movies.
It’s true, few things in nature are as peaceful as an idyllic scene blanketed in snow or homes as lightly falling snow magically makes Christmas lights “twinkle.”
But for those of us who grew up in the cold north, snow has a harsh side and it is anything but magical. In fact, it can be terrifying—bitter cold, freezing temperatures, ice that gives way on lakes and waterways, and cars that slide off the road.
And, similar to how snow must be feared as well as appreciated, the birth of a babe in the manger has a “terrifying” side.
A.W. Tozer describes the birth of Christ as “the wonder story of all lands and all ages,” even calling it “the most beautiful story in human language.” But he doesn’t stop there. He adds, the Christmas story is “beautiful but terrible.”
How strange that statement first seems in a culture that sees Christmas as a time for giving gifts and getting along, or, as the movies say, “Christmas magic” where all the year’s troubles end on a happy note. What could be terrible about a newborn baby?
N.T. Wright wrote that a skeptic once said to him, “I’ve finally worked out why people like Christmas. A baby threatens no one, so the whole thing is a happy event which means nothing at all.”
Wright responded that he was “dumbfounded” by the man’s statement. Herod was so threatened by the baby in the manger that he ordered the slaughter of young children to stop Him. Within a generation of Jesus’ birth, the Roman emperor ordered the persecution of the followers of this sweet baby. Jesus’ coming, Wright explained, was most definitely not a “happy event” for those in power.
“Whatever else you say about Jesus, from his birth onwards, people certainly found him a threat. He upset their power-games, and suffered the usual fate of people who do that.”
Tozer goes to the heart of the matter by pointing to the terrifying reason Christ came in human flesh--it was a rescue! Jesus came because of the “total moral and spiritual disaster that had engulfed the human race.” Tozer writes:
Now we cannot think of the coming of our Savior to the world apart from this … This is the story of a rescue, not a rescue team, but of one who came alone to rescue mankind and thus fulfill God’s ancient purpose in sovereign grace, the sending of a Rescuer. Save is the word we use and it means the same thing: to save the world and to redeem men who had been caught in this disaster and engulfed in this woe.
The story of the baby in the manger is one of beauty and terror. Jesus came to rescue us and that is the reason we celebrate.
In his Advent book, Tozer looks to the cross and bemoans the fact that believers do not long for Christ’s return. One reason we fail to yearn for Christ to return is that we have “emphasized the utility of the cross rather than the beauty of the One who died on it … the work of Christ has been stressed until it has eclipsed the person of Christ.”
This Christmas as we rejoice, may we also heed Tozer’s warning. As we celebrate the beauty of the baby in the manger, may we not forget the “terrible beauty” behind Christ’s coming because He came to rescue us.
Marilyn Stewart is the assistant director for communications at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College.
 A.W. Tozer. From Heaven: a 28-day Advent Devotional. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2016. Taken from Day 22, “Three Truths Behind Christmas.”
Tom Wright. Matthew for Everyone, Part One, Chapters 1-15. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, 14.