Down With God
Everyone is on God's side today. Contrary to the song, this isn't Santa's big day; it's God's. Today you can speak of God, thank God, be godly and not have to explain why. That's why you probably won't join me in saying, "Down With God." Yet, this is our problem at Christmas. We don't see God far enough down, and we do not keep Him there.
We need God to come down. If He stays where He is, we're doomed. If God deals with us high and uplifted, outside of, or apart from Christ, we are doomed. God tells Moses, the only one Scripture ever says God spoke with "as a man speaks with his friend, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live." If God would show us His face, we wouldn't just be driven mad or turned to stone as in legends and science-fiction, we would be dead. Hebrews reveals that our God is a consuming fire. Consuming fires are friends of no one. They consume anything in their path. If God deals with us as a consuming fire, the only thing we can be is cooked.
Furthermore, Paul tells us in I Timothy 6 that God dwells in light unapproachable. God isn't a bright light. He is Light that blinds the eyes, bends the head, and causes sinners to beg for Him to turn away from them. If God doesn't come down from that light unapproachable, we most certainly can't go up and get Him.
If God deals with us outside of Christ, we're doomed. This is a fact. Scripture says even the holy angels can't bear to look upon God in all His glory, and that even they aren't pure enough in God's eyes. Do you think we can bear God in all of His glory? Do you think we're pure enough to look at God sitting high and exalted in His blistering light?
We're not, but we try. We speak of God, confess God, believe in God high in the heavens nameless and faceless. That's why we think every presidential politician who ends his speech with "God bless America" really knows the true God, and that when the Pledge of Allegiance speaks of our nation being under a generic God it really means our God. Likewise, even though our money being stamped, "In God We Trust" points us to an exalted and eternal being whom no man can picture or name, it fits our idea of God. But friend, the gods of Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Mormons, the Lodge and Jehovah Witnesses are the ones who remain in heaven, invisible, unrevealed, and never, ever in flesh and blood.
Politicians and pledges keep this unknowable God before our ears, and our money keeps Him before our eyes. But we ourselves keep the unknowable, high and mighty God in our thoughts. We are always trying to peer into His majestic ways. We try to search His judgements even though Romans 11 declare that His judgments are unsearchable. We try to find the whys and wherefores of His ways when Romans 11 promises us that His ways are past finding out. We think, picture, dream, and imagine a God far, far above us in the heavens. We think of Him answering our prayers, directing our lives and deciding our fate. The very God who says He is unapproachable and unknowable is the only God we think we know!
Don't you see dear friends, we're doing what John 1:10 says, "He was in the world, and world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not." They looked at Jesus and all they saw was a Carpenter's son, a Man from Nazareth. They didn't recognize Jesus as the Creator of all things. They didn't recognize Jesus as the One who holds all things together by His powerful Word as Colossians says He does. They didn't recognize Jesus as the same yesterday, today and forever as Hebrews says. They didn't recognize Jesus as the One Adam walked with in the Garden, the One Moses talked with face to face , and the One Isaiah saw surrounded by six-winged seraphim. That God was safe in heaven not in Jesus.
Isn't this true of us? Do we recognize the Babe in the Manger as Abraham's promised Great Reward, Zions Helper, Jacob's Lord? Do we see that the Creature in the Manger is the Creator of the world? Do we see the One nursing on Mary as the One who feeds the world? Do we see the One held by Mary as the One who holds the whole world in His hands? Are we content, as Luther was, to know of no God apart from the One who lays in the manger, is raised by Mary and dies on a cross? Are we content, as St. Philip was not, to see the Father only by looking at the Son?
Perhaps you are, perhaps you're not. But what you do or don't do is not the Good News of Christmas. The Good News of Christmas is the true God doesn't deal with us apart from Christ. O rejoice, O shout for joy, O go home and kill the fatten calf and slay the Christmas goose. The high and exalted God wills to deal with sinners like us only through the Man Jesus. That's what Paul says: He has appointed the Man Jesus to be our Judge and that there is one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus!
God has come down to where mankind is. In the Words of St. John, "The Word took on flesh and pitched His tent among us." You probably don't know how amazing that sounded to Jewish ears. From the time of the Babylonian captivity, about 500 years before Christ was born, when the Scriptures were read in synagogues instead of reading the Lord appeared they would say, "The Word of the Lord appeared." Anytime they read or spoke of the Lord revealing Himself, the Old Testament church would say that it was the Word of the Lord doing it. Now John announced, "The Word took on flesh and dwelled among us!" Can you see their eyes pop out of their head when they hear this? Can you believe it? The Word, the Lord Jehovah has come down out of heaven and taken on our flesh and blood. And all of Jehovah is in this flesh and blood Jesus. Colossians 2:9 says "In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."
The Light that is unapproachable is not only approachable in Christ, it brings life not death. The Glory of God in Christ is full only of grace and truth not consuming fire. Men and women, boys and girl, toddlers and infants do not have to shield their eyes from God in Christ. They not only can gaze on Him, they can pick Him up; they can handle Him. God is in flesh and blood all for the sake of sinners. He is here to be used by sinners.
Here is the Gospel of Christmas. God wills to deal with sinners only in Christ where His Light is approachable not blinding, where His Fire doesn't consume but warms, where grace and truth comfort not confront sinners. But this much of the Christmas you can see in any Christian Church. Even those TV evangelists have this much of Christmas. Lutherans have more. Lutherans see that God didn't just come down, He stayed here to this very day.
Scripture places all of God in Christ and tells us that our God is there for us in Jesus. But where is this Jesus today? Look from manger to manger all across the world and you won't find Him in any of them. So you know what happens? Christians go back to dealing with a God they can't see. They see Jesus safe in heaven with the Father and the Holy Spirit leaving them to finding Jesus in their hearts, prayers, or thoughts.
Push the wonderful truth of Christmas all the way through. It's not just that God wills to come down and deal with us only in Jesus. It's more than that; the Jesus who is now invisible to us wills to deal with us today only by visible means that are still down here. We aren't left to just thinking or feeling about Jesus. We aren't even left with just believing Jesus. We are left with seeing Him too..
Dear Friends, as the eternally exalted Word was wrapped in flesh, so has He wrapped His flesh in the visible waters of Baptism. That's why Paul can say, "As many of you who have been baptized, you have put on Christ." As the Word was made flesh to dwell down here among us, so the Word made flesh has put His Word in the mouths of visible flesh and blood pastors by promising, "The one who hears them really hears Me." That's why when I forgive your sins you can say, "Jesus forgave My sins today." As the Word was wrapped in visible flesh, so the Word in flesh has willed to wrap His flesh and blood in visible bread and wine for sinners to eat and drink for the forgiveness of their sins.
Go all the way down with God this Christmas. It is not just that God took on flesh and blood and dwelled down here in the land of Judea for 33 years. It's not just that God took on flesh and blood to die a miserable death for sinners on the cross. It's not just that God in flesh and blood rose from the dead taking our flesh and blood with Him all the way to up heaven in the Ascension. No, this God in Christ wills to deal with us sinners still today down here by visible, tangible things like Water, Words, Bread and Wine. This is where He promises you that you can find Him today and everyday right up until the end of the world.
This is our real joy at Christmas. That our God is forever in flesh and blood to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows, to hear our prayers and forgive our sins. And this flesh and blood of His are no farther away from us then the waters of our Baptism, the words of our pastor, the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion. Push the truth that God became Man all the way down to today: to your Baptism, your Absolution, your Communion. George Will, a newspaper columnists did this last year in his Christmas Eve article where he quotes a poet saying, "No love that in a family dwells,/ No caroling in frosty air,/ Nor all the steeple-shaking bells/ Can with this simple Truth compare-/ That God was Man in Palestine/ And lives today in Bread and Wine."
Friend, those who can only find God in Christ or God in the manger are missing the comfort of God with us today. They are stumbling over God being in Water, Words, Bread and Wine. But don't you see? People have always stumbled over the Infinite God taking on finite things, the Invisible taking on the visible. But is it any more repugnant or offensive to think of God wrapping Himself in the Waters of Baptism, in the Words of Absolution, in the Bread and Wine of Communion then it is to think of God wrapping Himself in flesh and blood? In fact, isn't it actually messier for God to come in flesh and blood than for the flesh and blood God to come in Bread and Wine?
Those who are offended at the holy God coming down to them in Water, Words, Bread and Wine, unless they are spared by grace, will eventually be offended at God coming down in flesh and blood in the first place. But those rejoicing that their God comes to them in such visible, tangible ways as Water that is poured on their bodies, Words that are spoken into their ears, and Bread and Wine that they eat and drink have got God all the way down where He wants to be. Their God isn't just far away in heaven but in their church, in their hospital rooms, on their bodies and even IN their bodies. The incarnation, Christmas, begins the miracle of God coming down in flesh among us. Baptism, Absolution, and Communion continue the miracle until the close of the age. And isn't that how long He promised to be with us down here? Down with God, all the way down. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Nativity of Our Lord (12-25-99)