God...with Us

During the four hundred years of prophetic silence between the Old and New Testaments, generations of people like us were waiting and wondering and hoping for something. They believed there was more to life than what they saw around them. People were hurting, fighting, not loving, not trusting. They tried to fix things on their own, but they made little progress and things quickly reverted back to the way they had been. They were stuck. They needed someone to set things right once and for all, someone to come and rescue them. A Messiah is what they needed!

After a very long period of time, when it seemed all was adrift, nothing would change, and no answer was coming from God, love came down one silent night in a place no one expected. God came down to set the record straight, offering forgiveness and eternal life to all. Jesus’ birth was nothing like we would have expected, but it was everything we needed it to be.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The word “dwelling” in the original Greek is “εσκηνωσεν” and can also be translated as “tabernacled.” John’s use of this word would have reminded his first readers of the past. In the Old Testament, after the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt, they became “tribal nomads” (moving from place to place). During that time, Moses was told to build the tabernacle, where God would dwell with his people, and where they could go to seek forgiveness. No matter where his people went, God would always be with them.

Centuries later, John used this same concept to encourage his people in the same way: to know that God was with them, but now incarnate through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Soon we will be entering the season of Advent: a time leading up to the celebration of Christ’s birth. This is a time to focus on the meaning and mystery of God taking on flesh (“incarnation” literally means “to take on flesh”), as Christ was born of a virgin, becoming human. It is a time to get lost in the wonder and awe of how God came down to earth through his Son, Jesus Christ, to open the way to save all mankind.

A Danish philosopher named Søren Kierkegaard once described the incarnation of God in Christ in this way:

There was a loving and powerful king who was known throughout the world. But he was very unhappy, for he desired a wife. Without a queen, his vast palace was empty.
One day, while riding through the streets of a small village, he saw a beautiful peasant girl. He instantly fell in love with her and found himself riding by her house hoping to get another glimpse of her.

He wondered, “How might I win her love?” He thought, “I will draw up a royal decree and require her to become my queen.” But, as he considered this, he realized that by forcing her to marry him, he could never be certain of her love.

Then he said, “I will dress in my finest clothes and I will invite her to the palace. I will overwhelm her with my possessions and sweep her off her feet. Then she will marry me!” But the more he thought about this, the more he wondered if she would only be marrying him for his possessions.  
Then, at last, he knew what he had to do. He would shed his royal robes, go to the village, and become one of the peasants. He would work and suffer alongside them. He would actually become a peasant to win the woman’s respect in hopes that eventually she would fall in love with him.

Of course, any attempt to explain the mind of God in human terms—and to the satisfaction of our human understanding—will fall short! We simply know from Scripture that God considered how he could save humankind, and he chose to become one of us; he took on human flesh to dwell among us.

As we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth, we are reminded that Christ was born into the world so that he could one day die to save it. His human experience began in a manger surrounded by animals, and he grew up among us living a sinless, perfect life while living through many of the same joys and sorrows that we do. He performed miracles that pointed people to God’s love and mercy. And then one day, he was put to death on a cross and buried in a tomb. His followers feared all hope was lost. However, Jesus had predicted in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” True to his Word, three days after his death on the cross, the tomb was found empty. Jesus victoriously came back from the dead, having defeated sin, death, and the devil—once and for all.

Every aspect of Jesus’ life points to God’s loving kindness toward us. God is offering us a fresh start through his Son, Jesus Christ. When we receive this gift of faith, not only are our sins forgiven, but we are granted eternal life with God in heaven—God with us eternally!
Rev. Mike Natale is Pastor at Faith Chapel in Cranston, Rhode Island.

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