It comes as no surprise that the God who took initiative to create the world out of nothing would take initiative to redeem it. Somehow, in the midst of struggling with legalism, I failed to make that connection. Instead, I was presumptuous enough to think that I could have an active part in my own saving.
Christmas reminds us that we have no initiative in our redemption. The whole salvation program was God’s scheming work. His the implementation, his the sacrifice. Ours the surrender and benefit.
The saving plan of God was hinged on an important concept: presence. The only way to fix a broken world is to come into it. The work of grace is hands-on. That’s why the grace-child is called Emmanuel, God with us.
He couldn’t have sent an angel. He couldn’t have sent a liaison. He’d already sent prophets and mediators. He had only one option. He had to send himself. Presence. He had to be in the world in order to save the world. He had to wear skin and feel emotions. God had to come face to face with pain and death – not God-face to human-face, but human-face to human-face.
At Christmas we celebrate the unimaginable – that God, the Son, would humble himself to be present in a world of suffering.
What does this mean for those of us still living in a world where the Kingdom of Darkness advances with bloody thrusts? The recent school massacre is just one example of the war path of evil. Our quick assertion, “God is in control,” while truthful and faith-driven, can also seem trite and confusing.
Some are asking, “Where is God?” And the answer may be startling. He’s present. He’s amongst us. And he’s with us in a way no one else has been.
Jesus, which means Yahweh is Salvation, is the embodiment of God’s covenantal promise to dwell with his people, a promise made way back in Genesis. No other Ancient Near Eastern god would ever dwell amongst its people. The promise of a future Emmanuel came to Israel during a dark time when many were asking, “Where is God?” (Isaiah 7-8). The answer, from the prophet Isaiah, was that God was coming to dwell, coming to be I Am right in the midst of a humanity crying “I want to be!”
When you can’t see the Emmanuel, I Am, because of the darkness, remember this story from Matthew 14: 22-27:
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”
This Christmas, when you look at the Child in the manger, may you hear the words, “It is I. Do not be afraid.”