– “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”

— Matthew 1:21

The geography of Christmas, as so often is the case with true places, is not to be found on any map. Of such places, we often receive various reports from folks who believed they had seen something; still they are unable to accurately map the terrain of which they speak. So it was with God’s descent into flesh.

Oh, we have rumors: Angel sightings. Night skies filled with heavenly song. Wandering shepherds rushing to Bethlehem town. A manger birth. Kings setting off on long journeys, each following a surmise and an aberrant star. Such is the biblical account of Christmas.

Yet the Christmas tale, lovely and beautiful in the telling, shall always be but a kind of “pointing” to a God-fashioned happening, the facts of which lie beyond the mind’s reach.

Astounded by the impossible, the gospel writers stretched language. Reading these accounts of Jesus’ birth makes our world appear a kind of “Alice in Wonderland” place. And it is, of course — a planet swinging through space on an uncommonly long tether, its whence and whither partially explained by science — but the “why” is a secret forever denied us.

Still, it is a visited planet — a God-visited planet. That’s what the gospel writers, with their poetry and metaphor, want us to know.

However, realism almost always gets in the way of poetry and metaphor. So many will simply shrug their shoulders and quickly put such thinking out of mind. Do you know this from Elizabeth Barrett Browning?

“Earth’s crammed with heaven/ And every common bush afire with God/ And only he who sees takes off his shoes/ The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

Her point is that a too heavy accent upon realism tends to blind us to the miracle that underlies all life. I make no apology for the fact that I am among those who have “taken off their shoes.” I am quite prepared to look in the crib, seeing there God’s love revealed in the face of “a baby thing that made a woman cry.”

Gladly, I sing “Away in the Manger” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” There is in me an inner longing of the spirit that the poetry and metaphor of Christmas addresses. Shakespeare alluded to this yearning when he put upon the lips of Cleopatra, “Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me.”

At the same time, I am a realist. Facts also speak to me. We live in a real world. Here, we take our lunches to work. We walk the dog. We cook our meals and wipe the child’s nose. We wrestle with schedules. We pay our bills. Night comes and we lie down to sleep, then next day, do it all over again.

We are ever subject to the foibles and limitations of our humanity. Living means taking our skills and purposes “on the road” to see what they will do. Life may entail working in dreary settings. It is living in relationship with one another, not always an easy thing, as others may sometimes be difficult and hold purposes other than our own.

Still, it is in the context of this real world that the Christmas gift is given. Once God came down the backstairs in Bethlehem in a far-away time. God continues to come down into our lives, redeeming from insignificance what we are sometimes tempted to dismiss as “just one damned thing after another.”

I may have difficulty getting my mind around the Christmas Gospel. Never mind. My heart marches in step with what the anonymous medieval writer of “The Cloud of Unknowing” wrote:

“I will leave on one side everything I can think and choose for my love that thing I cannot think!”

I choose Christmas to love. I may not be able to “think” my way through Christmas, but it is God’s answer to my deepest need: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is minister of visitation at First Parish Church in Saco.