December 20, 2020

Jesus – Incredible but true

Passage: Luke 1:26-38

Today I invite you to explore again the journey of revelation that led to the coming of the God we know made flesh in Jesus Christ. I say explore because we should never accept God at face value. There is an invitation from this God to the people to explore what it meant for them to have a relationship with this God. In fact, it is the very nature of the interactions between humans and this God that makes the record in the Bible so unique among other faiths. As with other faiths, the people who make the decision to accept and worship this God take on obligations and responsibilities and enter into a relationship that requires each side to make and keep promises. But in the case of this God – right from the beginning – the relationship is more than satisfying external obligations. For every ancient people, there was no doubt that the universe they knew had not just appeared by accident but that it was designed and put in place. And while most came to believe that there was a pantheon of gods responsible for creating and maintaining the various aspects of the world and their lives, they did not have the sense that these gods were overly concerned with their welfare physically, mentally, or spiritually. To tell the truth, people had to be careful in their lives with the gods. Proper sacrifices had to be made in order to appease the gods so that the people could continue to live in relative peace and harmony. In spite of these attempts, though, the people experienced many hardships. Through it all, they realized that their very survival depended on keeping the gods happy.

This was the world in which Abraham – then known as Abram – was living when he encountered the One we now know as the Lord God. The relationship which developed between God and Abraham was one unlike anything the ancient world had ever known. It was unheard of for a god to speak with someone directly. Perhaps there would be a seer or a prophet or a wizard but not directly to a person who did not stand out from the crowd in any way. Yet this is what happened. And from that moment, there came a realization that there is a God who not only has been the One responsible for the creation of the world and is the One who has been active throughout the life of the world but that this same God desires to have and to sustain an active involved relationship with the people of this world.

If we reflect back on any of the ancient stories of the Bible, we have stories of God walking and talking. We find God seeking to share the joy of the gift of life. And yes, we are His creation, and He is the Creator; but right from the beginning, we all received this gift along with the right to decide how to use it. The fond hope of God was ever that we would receive that gift with such reverence and joy that we would do everything possible to preserve it and encourage it to flourish. But God sought not to control us to the point where we would fail to be able to respond with our own mind and so there were also those who sought to convince us to take the gift of life and control its direction for ourselves.

And while such a decision led to the loss of eternal life with God, God did not give up on us. He continued to come to the people generation after generation seeking to renew the relationship He sought to have with them and encouraging them to live the life he had envisioned from the beginning. They were given laws and commandments to guide them. They were given the opportunity to communicate with God. It was impressed upon them that they would never go through this life alone as long as they chose to stay in relationship with this God but there was still something missing. They still found ourselves separated from God by death. No one could find the way to continue from this world to the next.

All efforts to bring them to a place where they could once again live in that perfect world with God fell short. There were moments when they came so close, but it seemed impossible to get there. How could God get them from here to there? The time had come for God to take a bold step. He would come Himself and take on their flesh. He would walk among them in a way never imagined. He would talk with them in a way that would finally pierce our stubborn core and impress upon them in an ultimate way that He truly did care about us and that He wanted nothing less than for us to experience not only the joy of life in these years but to have the promise of joy eternally. But where should He start?

Where does each one of us start? According to the prophets, we all begin life in the womb. By the grace of God, the miracle of conception takes place, and we grow till we can no longer be contained in that space. Then we are born into this world, to live the life we have been granted and to learn how to find our relationship to the God whose grace created us. And so God determined to come into the world through the womb of a woman. But it couldn’t be just any woman! It needed to be a virgin so that people could not dismiss the birth as just another child. It needed to be a person related to David the King because God had promised the people that a descendant of David would always reign over the house of Jacob. It needed to be a humble birth because people needed to know that everyone counted from the least to the greatest. And so God determined that the one who would be the bearer of His seed would be the one we know as Mary.

An unplanned pregnancy; an embarrassment to her family; no doubt these were things being said about Mary when her family found out, but it was far from the truth. Her kinswoman, Elizabeth, far beyond the age to conceive, was pregnant herself. The child within her womb leapt in the presence of Mary; and Elizabeth herself confirmed to Mary that indeed she was most blessed among women for she had been chosen to bring the Lord into the world.

The visitation of the angel to Mary, the subsequent visit of the Holy Spirit and the life begun in Mary’s womb all combined to usher into the world the God who had been present through all time but now was to come in flesh and blood – a person capable of being held, looked upon, and listened to.

The story of John is a story of a strange man who came with a message calling people to repent and be baptized to ready themselves for the coming of God’s Spirit to be granted to them through the one made known by the descent of a dove. The story of Jesus is a story of an incredible man who came with a message calling people to receive salvation from God, eternal life, healing, peace, and love. But this is more than a story of an incredible man. This is the story of an incredible God – one who realized that nothing less than His appearance in the world He created as one of us would ever convince us that He sincerely desired nothing less than for us to be in a place where we could not only embrace life but live it fully without fear of death. No other way could we ever overcome the chasm that had appeared between us. And so through the one known to us as Jesus, God Himself provides the path by which we can find ever find our way through this life and discover at the end our relationship with the One who has never stopped loving us!