God With Us
Fredrick Brown wrote one of those science fiction computer stories a number of years ago where a group of scientists create an electronic super brain. The first question they put to the computer is, “Is there a God?” the computer answers back: “There is now!”
The bible, on the other hand, says simply, “In the beginning, God.” It is a simple yet profound affirmation, the Mind, the Love, the Presence that was and is the beginning, that is God.
-Of course, the bible goes on to build on that. God is not only creator; God is love personified and is always seeking to redeem and renew. God, the bible says, seeks to bless humanity. God continues to speak to us through saints and prophets as well as the whispering of the Holy Spirit. And we gather tonight affirming that God has come to us in the life of that baby born in Bethlehem Two thousand plus years ago. God came not with princely power and prestige, not with armies at his command, not seeking status as emperor to conquer and control, but as a peasant baby born in a backwater village. It was, economically and politically, a completely insignificant place.
This baby was unplanned by Mary and Joseph, an intrusion, a disruption in the family plans, and, like all babies, he was innocent, fragile, defenseless, and totally dependent on other’s love. That’s what the bible’s birth story tells us about how God chose to come to us.
It is a drama of vulnerability and hope. The poetry and mystery of God’s self-giving. It is the lived-out promise of God, -a God not distant and removed, not judgmental and resentful but God coming to where we are, how we are, in all the vulnerability of a baby. God comes to us as one of us, awakening us to what we might be. And in the end offering himself in total sacrifice for our failure to be as loving and caring as the creator has called us to be.
James Martin who used to write in the Upper Room devotional once told of a trip he took to the Holy Land. While he was there, he bought a nativity set carved out of olive wood. Later, as he checked through the security at the airport in Tel Aviv, He was surprised at how meticulous they were in checking things. He was surprised to see them take each piece of the Nativity set out of the box and run them through an x-ray machine one by one. The security officer explained they were checking for explosives packed in hidden hollowed out spaces.
It got him thinking, he said, –that for all intents and purposes, the Christmas scene has been one of the most explosive events in history. At the manger the stage is set, and events are put in motion, that change the world -and millions of lives.
But as Matthew and Luke tell the story there is a strange paradox: On the one hand, there is a multitude of Angels and some shepherds, and finally some Wise Men who are conscious of the event, -and undoubtedly a midwife or two. But most of Bethlehem and Jerusalem don’t even take notice. The town doesn’t flock to this birth scene, nor is there is story of the Inn Keeper rushing out to the barn to see what was going on.
Christmas has always come first and foremost to individuals who happen to catch something of its poetry and mystery for their own lives. –After it was over, the Wise Men returned to their own country, the shepherds went back to their flocks, albeit, Luke says, they went, “Praising God.” –No doubt even Mary went on with the regular tasks of being a wife and a new mother. I’m sure she soon sent Joseph out to the store to get some needed supplies.
Likewise come Jan. we all go back to business as usual, to school, to work, to the pressures and responsibilities that make up our lives. Like Mary, perhaps, we’ll catch a moment to wonder about what it all means. Or maybe, like the shepherds, there will be a lingering sense of joyous mystery that gives rise to praising God and puts a song in our hearts.
If Christmas has awakened us for a moment to the deeper realities of life and the mystery of God reaching out to us, if Christmas has made us sing with an inner voice of God’s goodness and grace, or simply moved us to give our Christmas gifts with truly thankful hearts, then Christmas has done its job! It has planted the seed, to bud in our lives and renew faith and hope, love and joy, in the midst of life’s busyness and life’s struggles. In some small way, We, like all those Christmas movie characters, from George Bailey, in It’s a Wonderful Life, to Dicken’s Scrouge, who found, in the Christmas miracle, an opening of their soul and a rekindling of the joy of life, we have been made new, been blessed with hope and grace.
I pray that seed blooms in your hearts this year.