So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Matthew 1:22-23
Recently one of my ten-year-old granddaughters got in trouble with their dad while visiting our home. She was sitting on the stairs in some sort of time out. Her countenance was sad and serious, and she was holding her face in her hands.
I sat down beside her on the stairs where we silently sat together for a couple of minutes. Then I leaned towards her and said, “I love you.” She laid her head against my shoulder and said, “I love you too, Grandpa.”
We stayed like that for a few more minutes and then I got up and left her sitting there while I went outside to finish up a project I had been working on.
Presence is gentle but powerful.
The Bible is only three chapters old, and mankind is not near God anymore. God is left walking alone in the Garden He had created for us asking mankind, “Where are you?” And from that question on, the rest of the story of Scripture is the tale of God coming to be near us whether we know it or care about it or not.
From Noah to Abraham; from Moses to Elijah; from King David to Isaiah, the entire story of the Older Testament is about God pursuing mankind. About God trying to get close to us.
And this long, epic story comes to a climax in a little village called Bethlehem where a baby is born who is called Emmanuel—God is with us.
It was announced one bleak evening by an angel to a poor young couple pregnant under mysterious circumstances—God is fully and finally with us. The birth of Jesus is God coming among us. Moving into our neighborhood, sitting on our stairs, becoming one of us.
And God comes among us, not as some celebrated official with a huge fanfare or accolade; God comes near to us in ultimate vulnerability and weakness as a helpless, squirming little infant born to two teenagers in a dark and damp cave.
This is how God chooses to come near us…to become with us.
We call this, theologically, the incarnation. It comes from the Latin term that means “in meat.”
The birth of Jesus is God descending among us—in meat, in our very flesh and bone. God became breakable, vulnerable, and helpless so that He could be near to us.
IF you think about it, for people with bodies, important things like love have to be embodied. God had to be embodied, or else people with bodies would never in a trillion years understand about love.
As we celebrate Christmas this evening, I want to invite you to hang on for dear life to the incarnation. The reason is because I know some of the stories in this room…
- Some of you will spend this holiday season alone.
- Some of you will experience family conflict as you gather with those who share your last name.
- For some of you this is a season of incredible sadness.
- Some of you have experienced loss in your families and friendships that would make the rest of us stagger under that load…
Here is the good news that I want to invite you to hang onto for dear life: God is near you.
Be still, my soul, for God is near,
The great High Priest is with thee now!
The Lord of Life himself is here,
Before whose face the angels bow.
To make thy heart his lowly throne,
Thy Saviour God in love draws nigh;
He gives himself unto his own,
For whom he once came down to die. (William Dalrymple Maclagan)
The Incarnation is a “riches to rags” story. That’s amazing . . . but it’s not the best part.
The God who had known nothing but perfection takes on human suffering. He who had only been worshipped by angels was now mocked by cynics and hypocrites.
He was despised and rejected by other people, but He took on so much more than that kind of external hostility. Internally, He took on our worry, our fear, and our loneliness.
At one point, He says, “Now my heart is troubled.” He uses this word troubled to describe unbelievable anguish. He took on our guilt. He took on our suffering. He took the punishment of our sin on Himself. He took on His own shoulders the sin of the many. He took up the cause of all the black sheep.
The angels watch as the Eternal steps into time, as the Infinite is confined to space, as Absolute Authority becomes weak, as Perfection takes on sin.
But that’s not the best part.
I’ll tell you a little story, and then I’ll tell you the best part.
I have always been a Denver Broncos fan. It has been difficult these past few years to maintain that loyalty. I remember watching the Broncos when they wore striped socks. For years they were the laughingstock first for the American Football League and then for the National Football League. They didn’t have very many stand out players. But that all changed in the mid-1970s.
It came to pass in those days, that the phone rang one day, and it was a man named Donnie Dee, who used to play tight end for the Seattle Seahawks, but had become the regional director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Colorado. A mutual friend of ours had told him that I was a decent speaker and that he might consider having me speak at an FCA function.
So, Donnie invited me to preach at a gathering at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. There were about 500 students there that day for the Air Force game and other festivities. I took my oldest son Cole; at the time he was about 6 years old.
Donnie Dee came up to me and said Randy Gradishar was going to speak right before me. I was blown away. Randy Gradishar! My hero. The NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1978. The anchor of the famed Orange Crush Defense of the late 70’s. I couldn’t believe it. I wish I had prepared a better talk!
But something happened on the way from Denver down to Colorado Springs and at the last minute, Gradishar couldn’t give his testimony. I was sad and relieved at the same time—more sad.
I told Donnie that Gradishar was one of my heroes and that I had so badly wanted to meet him and introduce him to my son. (Truth is I wanted to meet him more than I wanted to introduce him to my son.)
I did the talk…it was okay. Could have done better had Gradishar showed up.
We got the tickets that Donnie had given us and went to watch the game. Cole could have cared less about the game. Me too for that matter. I was replaying the sermon that didn’t connect and doing some post-editing…taking stuff out…adding stuff…. stupid when you think about it…sermon is done, and the folks have already forgotten it.
About halfway through the second quarter, someone tapped me on my shoulder. I turned around and looked up and it was Randy Gradishar. And I beheld his glory—the glory of an All-Pro Middle Linebacker, full of power and might.
I couldn’t believe it. He stuck out his hand and said, “You must be Joe Chambers.” (He knew my name) I shook his hand and introduced him to Cole. He apologized for being late. Said he had car trouble. Said he heard that the sermon went really well. Said that Donnie had told him where I was sitting: the section, row, and seat number. He asked if he could sit down and watch the game with me for a while. I stammered that I didn’t mind. He watched it with us until halftime. Great guy. Not as big as I imagined he’d be, though.
The best part was he sought me out. Found my section, row and seat. And sat down with me. Randy Gradishar knew my name and came for me.
Here’s the best part.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
…(So it was) when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman…(and he), being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of (a baby).
The Word became flesh. The Eternal came in time. The Infinite restricted Himself to a body. Omnipotence came in weakness. Perfection came to carry our sin. But the best part is…
He came for you.
He came to your section, your row, your seat.
He knows your name.
He sat down right beside you.
He came for you.