God With Us
Christmas Day 2016
The First Miracle of Christmas
You know Croesus, the richest man in the world. Everything he touched turned to gold. But all his treasure could not buy wisdom, so he went to the fount of wisdom.
In the sixth century before Christ, when Croesus sat on the throne of Lydia in Asia Minor, the wisest man in the world was the philosopher Thales.
The king put the question that plagued him to the philosopher: “What is God?”
The philosopher asked for a day to consider the matter, and then for another day and another and another. At length, he reported to the king that he was unable to reply. The longer he reflected, the more difficult it became to frame an answer to the question, what is God?
Perhaps Thales was the most honest man in the world. For who has ever supplied a satisfactory answer to the question, “What is God?” If man could answer, would God be God?
Let’s try another question: What is man? The Psalmist poses this question to God: “What is man, that You are mindful of him?” (8:4). There’s another puzzler. I confess that I can’t answer.
But He is mindful of us. He tells us that He is not only our King and our Lord but also our Father. We are His sons and daughters. He loves us so much that He will not leave us to stagger and stumble in darkness but will send His Light into this sin-blackened world to save us.
And because He does love us, we may behold the radiance of His glory. In more prosaic terms, we may know Him for who He is. Surely this is the first miracle of Christmas: that God wants to be known by us.
This Light is the ultimate manifestation of the Father, God the Son. Father, Son . . . glory concealed, glory revealed – to us. He is mindful of us. In the Incarnation, mysteries divide and multiply like a shaft of light hitting a prism. But this we can know to a certainty: God wants to be known by us.
And to that end, He has become Immanuel, God With Us, a man.
God become man? How can that be? In a less enlightened age, the church fathers met the question head-on. St. Athanasius said, “A man must be beside himself to venture on such points.”
Gregory of Nazianzus offered: “Shall I tell you how it was? It was in a manner known to the Father who begat and to the Son who was begotten. Anything more than this is hidden by a cloud, and escapes your dim sight.”
Now that a voice rumbling out of antiquity has put us in our place, perhaps we should proceed in a spirit of celebration rather than investigation. Let us rejoice in who God is and what He has done. We exalt the God who has stepped into His creation and redeemed it, the God who will return in glory to rule over it for all the ages.
“Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end.”
If I could sing, I would simply break out in the Halleleujah chorus at this point and leave things there. But alas.
The Babe in the manger, born of a virgin, is Light of Light, Very God of very God. In Him are life and light, echoing the creation account of Genesis, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures” and “Let there be light.”
Imagine, if you can, the void before creation, the utter, inky nothing. God spoke light into that void. On the same order is this Light who is Christ coming into the world. He is the eternal Logos, the living Word. The God who created by His word is revealed by His Word, the Word that is Light.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.” As the Father’s glory once filled the tabernacle of Israel, that glory now fills a tabernacle of flesh: Immanuel, God With Us.
The Word is the ultimate revelation of God. Men can stand face-to-face with the Son who has known the Father face-to-face and reveals Him exactly as He is. God has impressed His glory on Christ, exalted Him as His Father’s reflection and image . . . but the Son does more than reveal.
In His great heart God aches to be known by us, and to be known by us in His eternity He must first save us from our sin. This too is the work of the Son, the Babe in the manger.
Only by God could God be known, and only by God could man be saved. And we must be saved so that we might know everlastingly our loving Father who, for all of our arrogance and rebellion, is still mindful of us.
What is God? What is man? We began with one wise man. Let us close with three others. The wise men followed the Christ Child’s star to Bethlehem. They went not to reason with words but to worship the Word made flesh, not to generate light by human wisdom but to behold the Source of all light, not to investigate God but to bow down before Him.
To the outrageous claim that God had put on human flesh these foreigners proclaimed, “Amen!” What made them wise? They searched for wisdom not in man but in God, the living Word.
If we produce the question, what is God? — as we surely will — we will ponder forever and at last, with the great philosopher, retire in despair . . . unless we begin at the manger, adoring the Child who both reveals His Father and saves us that we might know our Father.
Is it not enough that our Creator is mindful of us? Surely it is the first miracle of Christmas . . . but not the last.
The Psalmist goes on:
“For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (8:5-6).
This is what the God who wants to know us has done for us.
Halleleujah! And amen.