A New Revelation of God
The Proper Preface before Communion changes with the season. It is one of the oldest and least changed parts of our liturgy. The Proper Preface for Christmas thanks God for giving us "a new revelation of Thy glory." How blasphemous! What's this talk about a new revelation of God? The first confession of faith you'll find in the Bible is, "The Lord our God is One." What's this about a new revelation of God? There's only one God, not two, how can there be anything new about this one God?
The Proper Preface goes on to explain in what sense it means a new revelation by saying it's "seeing Thee in the person of Thy Son." Wait a minute. Call a foul! Doesn't the Bible plainly say that no one has seen God at anytime? Moses was forbidden to look at God. Elijah wasn't allowed to look. Israel was commanded to never make a visible representation of God. "Watch yourselves very carefully, because you didn't see any form when the Lord talked to you out of the fire at Horeb...Don't get corrupt and carve for yourselves any kind of idol."
Has God changed His mind? Is it now okay to think of God as more than one? Is it okay to make images of God for worship? How could it be? God declares very forcefully in Malachi 3, "I the Lord do not change," and in James we're told that there is no variation or even shifting shadow in God.
Then it is just plain blasphemous to say that Christmas is a new revelation of God. Well, to Jews and Muslims it sure is. Both groups believe that Christians worship more than one God and that we are idolaters because we believe God became visible in Jesus Christ. For the Muslim and Jew God must remain invisible. This was the attitude Christ ran up against when He walked the earth. The Jews tried to stone Him because He made Himself equal with God. Even His own disciples kept tripping over this fact. They wanted to see God the Father; they just couldn't come to terms with the fact that when they saw Jesus they were seeing the Father.
The Gospel lesson sums up all this rejection with one sentence, "He came to that which was His own, but His own did not recognize Him." The words "His own" translate the Greek word idioi from which the English word "idiot" comes. So we could translate this, "He came to that which was His own, but the idiots didn't recognize Him." What they did we will do unless God helps us. Unless God takes us by the hand and shows us this new revelation of Himself, we too will be idiots about it. Unless God helps us we will on our own idiotically conclude it is blasphemous to speak of a new revelation of God; to point to the manger and say, "There lies God;" to fall down and worship the Babe in the manger.
Should this really surprise us? Can we expect on our own to understand the mystery of the Eternal Word of God made flesh in time? A Biblical mystery is something that only God can make known. A mystery is something that no matter how hard we reason, figure, or try we will never get our head around. A mystery is something that no man or woman would ever be able to think up, figure out, or believe in on their own.
How mysterious all of this is! How mysterious that the Word of God should be made man and live in this tent of flesh among us. The Word of God Itself is no mystery. From the beginning we know of it. God spoke and there was creation and life. God spoke and brought Abraham to faith and made him the father of the Promised Seed. God spoke and created for Himself the nation of Israel. God spoke and made King David the father of the Messiah. Before Christmas, God spoke to His people in many and various ways through prophets, priests and kings. But at Christmas the Word puts on flesh and blood. Now the Word that had comforted, guided, and provided for so many, takes on visible form.
For centuries, the people of God knew He was there through His Word. But they were like the little child who pointed at the sky and asked, "Is God up there?" "Yes," the mom replied. "Wouldn't it be nice if He put His head out and let us see Him?" And God did that. The Word that was with God from the beginning; the Word that was God from the beginning took on flesh to dwell among us.
However, the new revelation of God is not just that He has become visible, but how and why He did. God came in the most humblest of ways. His first baby bed was a feeding trough, His first clothes rags, His first visitors weren't grandma and grandpa but foul smelling shepherds. The "why" He came is even more radical than the "how." He came into the womb for the purpose of bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows.
This doesn't seem that radical to you because you've grown up with it. You can easily regard this new revelation of God as ordinary and expected when it's anything but. The ordinary and expected would be what Homer said, "This is the lot the gods have spun for miserable men: they live in pain while the god's themselves are sorrowless." It's expected that God remain safe, secure, sorrowless in heaven. God shouldn't bear our sins, sorrows, and pains. God wouldn't have been unfair if He had balled up creation and thrown it away. But He didn't. Instead He took on flesh and blood to not just stick His head out of heaven but to come and rescue us!
Is a new revelation of God blasphemous? To the unbelieving it is, but to the believing it's mysterious, and to sinners who get confused by what God does in the world this new revelation of God is very desirous. We see destruction, death, disease, and disaster in this life, and we know the all powerful God is in control of it all, so we conclude God is wicked and unfair because that's how it seems to us. Not only what we see but what we feel colors our view of God. When we're feeling the guilt of our sins, we think God is out to get us. When we're feeling pleased with ourselves, we think God must be pleased with us too.
If God doesn't reveal Himself to us, we're forced to think about Him based on what we see going on in the world or based on what our fickle, fallen hearts feel. But God had mercy on us and in Jesus made Himself known. In Jesus the true God shows us the bottom of His heart. John 1:18 puts it this way, "No man has seen God at any time, but the only begotten Son of God has made Him known."
Do you want to know the true heart of God? Do you want to see God as He really is? Then stop looking at what you see going on in the world. Stop looking at AIDS in Africa, war in Iraq, or earthquakes all over. In these it looks like God only hates the earth and all on it. In these it looks like God enjoys making men die, women cry, and children suffer. In these the actions of God can't be understood and certainly not loved. But here in Jesus, in the manger, on the lap of Mary, is another story.
When you start thinking about God, don't start in your heart, your head, in nature, or the world. Start in the manger. Proud people start thinking about God from above dwelling on the invisible God, on questions God has not answered, on deeds God has not explained. The Scriptures begin from below and move upwards. They start very gently with a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Then they lead us to Christ as a Man; next, to Him as Lord over creation; and then, to Him as God in the flesh. Scriptures don't start with the war, destruction, and death going on in the Roman empire at the time Christ came. They don't start with the thoughts and opinions of Mary, Joseph, the scribes, or the Pharisees. They start with what everyone has seen before: a Baby. Then they move up from there.
From God below to God above is the path we are to take if our desire to know God as He truly is, is to be fulfilled. This is also the path to take if our prayer in the Proper Preface is to be answered. We ask God by this new revelation of Himself to draw us "to the love of those things which are not seen." We have a great need to be drawn to love those things which are not seen because our natural tendency is to love those things that are seen and to act like unseen things don't even exist.
We are all in danger of finding our consolation and comfort in seen things, so God became Man to dwell among us, to rub shoulders with us, to pat our backs, to hug our hurts. God became Man to give us comfort, to touch us in our space and time. You can see Him doing that in the first Christmas. Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds touched and were touched by God in the flesh. But what about us? How does God give us the flesh to flesh comfort we beings of flesh still need today so that we are drawn to love the unseen, eternal things that we cannot see or touch?
He does it through the incarnation, through the miracle that happened at Christmas. After God put on flesh and blood and stepped into our Baptismal waters, He gave us Baptism and said, "When you're baptized, I take My flesh and blood and cover you like a coat." After God put on flesh and blood, carried our sins to the cross, suffered and died for them there, and rose without them, He breathed on His Church and gave Her the power to forgive sins in His name. So whenever we are forgiven, the breath of Christ once more brushes against us. After God put on Flesh and Blood He promised to bring His Body and Blood to earth to put into our mouths with Bread and Wine. You can't get any closer than God on your Body in Baptism, in your ears in Absolution, or in your Body in Communion. By these very visible things of God we're drawn to love the things of God we can't see.
At Christmas we see God face to face; we see God in flesh and blood; we see what God really thinks of us. So, Christmas isn't the celebration of a new God, but a new revelation of the same God, the only true God. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Christmas II (1-4-04); John 1:1-18