Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you ever felt that God was distant and removed from your life? We can go through life feeling like God is way up there, and I am way down here. We live in a world ruled by sin, ruined by injustice, violence, corruption, self-centeredness. We live in a corrupted world filled with despair, sickness, and death. Do you watch the news and scroll through social media, shaking your head, asking, where’s God? It’s not uncommon to look around at the world we live in and feel like we’ve been left on our own. That’s the question we’re looking at this Christmas morning: Where is God?
Our God is Coming Back to Reign
In our Old Testament reading we find the ancient message delivered to the people of God after languishing for decades in exile. The Prophet Isaiah sees a Jerusalem that’s nothing but a heap of ruins. The city has crumbled under foreign occupation. This was not so easy for the Judeans either. The people of Judah might have thought that God was no longer involved with them, that he forgot about them. God’s presence had abandoned the temple and left the city and the people to their enemies. They looked around at their world and wondered where God was. Then, from a battlefield, a messenger approaches the city with important news. The messenger comes to announce that a king was coming to take possession of his kingdom and restore its peace and prosperity. This is no human king who is coming to claim his kingdom. The watchmen shout that God is in sight, approaching the city, and they break out into cheers and praise that salvation has come to them. God’s himself is coming. The Lord has returned! “Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King!” The message is peace, good news, salvation, all because God has come back to establish his rule. The report is shouted for all to hear. Jerusalem is echoing with songs of celebration and shouts for joy.
When you hear, “our God reigns,” don’t think of a CEO God. It means more than “God is in control” or “God is in charge.” The point here is not a distant CEO God, but on what this God has done for his people in the face of all our ruin. God has shown his complete commitment to the promises he made. The Almighty has rolled up the divine sleeves to do what needs to be done. He took it upon himself to bring those Judeans peace and salvation. What God had promised came about precisely because he did something about it himself. The ruined city can now rejoice: God is returning. He will restore the city, and the community will be made whole. The enslaved will be freed, and the exiled will go home. God has rolled up his sleeves, and he will restore peace and justice. Freedom will be won. The Creator was not distant. No, he was returning to rule personally. He cared and was personally getting involved.
Our God Became Flesh
This peace, good news, and salvation are not only for the Old Testament. This active involvement of God himself is not only for the people of Israel and Judah but also for all the Earth. God’s commitment is not just to save one particular people but the entire world and all people. This peace, good news, and salvation are for you. These messengers were shouting something that they will see fulfilled when the Lord returns to Zion—when Immanuel is among them when the King of the Jews is born.
John says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That’s the meaning of Christmas. Our cause for joy is that God has come into the world, born of a virgin, in the person of Jesus Christ. We should “break forth together into singing!” God coming in the flesh is our source of joy, comfort, redemption, and salvation. It is the good news that in Jesus of Nazareth, our God reigns. God has kept his promises, and he rolled up his divine sleeves. God has got involved in our mess. He cares about us.
John tells us that the only-begotten Son of God who existed in perfect fellowship with the Father from all eternity became a flesh and blood man named Jesus. John is saying that Jesus is the eternal Son. Jesus is God. Along with being true God, he is also a flesh and blood man who could be seen, touched, and heard. God has revealed himself; made himself known as a human male. God isn’t just some abstract concept. God is a true and physical man named Jesus. Joan Osborne asks, “What if God was one of us?” God is one of us!
If you want to know what God looks like, what he acts like, what he thinks like, then look no further than Jesus. Everything you need to know about God is in him. God is a man, a human. The Creator was born of a woman. God ate and drank, slept and awoke, prayed and worked, taught and cried. Our God is a man we couldn’t have picked out of the crowd. The eternal God has entered time. The all-powerful maker of all decided to dwell among us as a tiny, helpless, pooping, gurgling newborn swaddled against the cold of the night and nestled hungrily at a virgin mother’s breast. When you grasp this, you have captured the breath-taking thrill of Christmas.
God did not become flesh to search you out and terrorise you or condemn you. No, he comes to seek and to save you, to give you life in place of death. He did not come to provide you with despair or doom or condemnation. But hope and joy and consolation. That is why the Word becoming flesh is a gift from God, the most excellent Christmas present you will ever receive. You’ll find the present under the tree–actually, on the tree, on the tree of the cross. That is where this baby is headed: that baby lying in a lowly manger is going to hang on a cruel cross and to lie lifeless in a cold tomb. The Word became flesh so that flesh could be torn off his body by a whip. The Word became flesh so that nails could be driven through his hands into a rough piece of wood. The Word became flesh so that he could endure the slow, suffocating death of crucifixion. That is why he became flesh, to do all that for you. It is your sins for which he died. It is your death he suffered. But by doing so, the holy Son of God paid what you owe – he paid your fine, setting you free from all that bound you, forgiving your sins, winning your salvation. No greater Christmas present will you ever receive, for this gift has it all: forgiveness, life, eternal salvation, resurrection life that conquers the grave and lasts forever.
But don’t be “so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” God became flesh and dwelt among the least, the lonely, the unloved, the hungry, the thirsty. He dwelled among the least of these to serve them. He came to bring justice and end oppression. Don’t ignore that! “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 21:40). We are required to be concerned about the less fortunate among us. As one Teresa of Avila put it, “Christ has no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.” Or, as Luther put it: “Therefore, just as our neighbor has need and lacks what we have in abundance, so also we had need before God and lacked God’s mercy. For this reason, as our heavenly Father supported us freely in Christ, so also we ought freely to support our neighbor with our body and its actions, and each person ought to become to the other a kind of Christ, so that we may be Christs to one another and be the same Christ in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians” (AL, 1.525). When you see the bad things happening in the world and wonder, “Where is God?” Remember: He sent you! As you love and serve others you are Christ’s hands and feet. God bent down as servant of all, so we should bend down in service to others.
Do not think that God is distant and removed from your life. God is not uninterested, and he is not inaccessible. Because the Word was made flesh, that means our God got involved. He has rolled up the divine sleeves to do what needs to be done. This is the profound mystery of the Incarnation. God became a man to bring you joy, comfort, and salvation. Because the Word was made flesh, that means our God continues to get involved and continues to dwell with us. The Word Made Flesh dwells with us in the same humble, creaturely way. He continues to come to you in the preached and written Word. He continues to roll up his divine sleeve in the water of Holy Baptism, and he enters your life personally with the bread and wine of His Supper. There you will find Him, swaddled in all His enfleshed glory, offering you grace upon grace. Your God is not distant. He rolled up his sleeves and saved us. And we’re invited to roll up our sleeves and serve our neighbours.
Long after the gifts are opened, or the decorations are gone and packed away and the holiday joy gives way to the new week of work, we are left with only one thing: in that infant boy, born to the Virgin Mary, we find our God coming down to us, rolling up his sleeves to save us.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.