John 1:1-4, 10:14
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 26, 2021
What just happened?
Even as recently as yesterday, most of us felt excited and hopeful…and now lots of us feel let down and devoid of enthusiasm. The hoopla of the holiday has ended; and things seem back to “normal”, just the “same old, same old”. So, did Christmas fail us? Or are we forgetting what it has done, and is doing, for us?
Maybe He who in human flesh once dwelt on earth in truth and grace, in the Holy Spirit still does – and, as a result, our prospects for positive change have altered. The Bible tells us that Christmas enables us to know God better, entertain new possibilities for our lives and enjoy a strong and steadfast community of support for realizing those possibilities.
First, the incarnation of Christmas brings God right in front of us, eyeball to eyeball. Because the infinite inhabited that infant, the transcendent has drawn close and God becomes more readily knowable. In joining the human race as a baby, God made Himself small so as to scare off no one and to give everyone hope of getting their mind around who He is and what He’s like, if not in all His transcendent glory, at least in His love and mercy.
The third-century theologian Origen told of a huge statute so immense that no could quite take it in. So someone made a replica miniaturization of it to bring it within view and give folks a chance to grasp the greatness of whom it displayed. That’s what Baby Jesus did; He miniaturized God to make the invisible and incomprehensible visible and comprehensible.
Back when she was an agnostic, Becky Pippert thought only finite beings with foolish pride could think they could know God in a significant way. However, one day, while idly studying the ants in her garden, she started to wonder how much they could know her and her intentions. It occurred to her that she was so much above them that the only way they could was if she came down to their level, scaled herself down to their size, become in fact an ant herself, and communicated with them in a language they understood, say, by wiggling her antennae or dancing about in certain patterns. It then dawned on her that God, a being infinitely superior to us, would have to do much the same to give us a clue about who He is and how He feels about us. Since we couldn’t rise up to Him, He’d have to reach down to us.
What happened at Christmas makes God knowable as never before, if not completely, still at a deep and intimate level. What also happened at Christmas puts the Most High alongside of us to help us develop into better versions of ourselves. God became like us to enable us to become more like Him! When we could only make ourselves a little better, He chose to be with us in order to make us a lot better – and better off in all sorts of ways!
Last year a certain YouTube video went viral. It showed a boy finding a small sheep stuck headfirst in a long narrow trench dug beside a road. The sheep was helplessly trapped in its mud. So the boy helped it up and out. After a few faltering first steps, the sheep then broke out into a happy dance, leaping in joy this way and that…until it accidentally fell headfirst back into the same trench, with no recourse but to again baa plaintively for another rescue. One viewer responded, “That’s me and Jesus on a regular basis. He keeps dragging me out of some ditch, and I keep falling right back in and needing Him to save me again!” Since God in Jesus is already there beside us, He can always do exactly that!
My hope for becoming a better person who also betters my little corner of the world derives, not from my capacity to avoid dumb moves and lift myself up by my own bootstraps, but from Jesus’ faithfulness in being here with me in truth and grace to pull me out of my mud and give me another chance.
What happened from Christmas? As never before, God becomes knowable and we gain higher hopes for our future. Third, we gain a loving family who’ll collaborate in our rescue and party in gratitude for it with us.
In The Washington Post three years ago, Linda Demarest wrote of her experience as part of a spelunkers group who got lost deep underground in the labyrinth caves of Indiana and had to huddle, waiting for rescue, in a tiny rock alcove with cold, dark waters rising up on them. Rescuers descended into the pitch black of those caves to save them. When at last some found them, they blessed them with bright smiles, clean water, food and warm clothes. One rescuer noted the stink of those folks squeezed together that long without facilities was “fantastically terrible”; but because they were being saved it was, he said, “the best smell I’ve ever inhaled!”
Over the next several hours, the rescuers helped the spelunkers wade, scramble and crawl to the surface. Once in the open air, jubilant people welcomed them with cheers, compassionate medical care, Gatorade, fried chicken, thick blankets and an inviting campfire.
In the same way, Jesus entered our darkness and doesn’t mind our stink. He helps us make it into the open air of God’s grace and makes us a part of a welcoming community overjoyed to see us, happy to take care of us, and eager to celebrate our salvation with us.
What just happened from Christmas? We can know God better, grow into our full potential and join a family of partyers ever rejoicing in the grace and truth of Christ!