Christmas Day 2016
The Real Jesus
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:7-10 ESV)
Today around the world the message of Jesus’ birth is preached – proclaimed – possibly taught – maybe defended – though we honestly have to say that we don’t know the date of Jesus’ birth – but this is a celebration – a commemoration of an event that is momentous – God has stepped onto this planet in a way that is safe for us.
Such a message down through the years is like an accumulation of drops of water becoming a river and eventually a waterfall. It is like news of a coming celebrity who is spotted by someone who passes the word
to the person nearby or phones, tweets, or texts and the message spreads. There is intense interest in a city at war waiting for news from the front line about whether the enemy has broken through or has been beaten – eyes and ears eagerly search for signs and the message spreads like wildfire when the outcome is known. As water is critical for the thirsty, celebrity news important to the fan, and battle reports vital for the city so this message of Jesus actually affects, changes, and alters our lives and if it doesn’t then it hasn’t been heard.
Isaiah presents the good news message impacting people’s lives. He uses the enthronement style of the coming king – and the excitement such an event generates – to give an even more amazing message – that God himself is actually coming to reign. The king hasn’t come yet but the messenger is here already. The messenger’s feet aren’t podiatry perfection but his message is beautiful – good news – relief – salvation – rescue – and it is picked up by the watchmen who spread it with joy – and then the city (called a ruin by the way) will burst into songs of joy for God has comforted his people – redeemed them – and the rest of the world will know God is with them.
Today we can see how the church saw this passage of Isaiah fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. Down through the ages or across a coffee table, baby change table, work bench, bar, or hospital trolley the message of Jesus is proclaimed with the aim of being heard as good news, bringing comfort, and generating songs of joy. God is with us – the incarnation is amazing to contemplate – the fullness of God dwells in Jesus bodily – the infinite is contained in the finite – the ocean can fit into a bottle – no it can’t says our minds – yes, it can says this message. But this isn’t a pantomime, God is here with us – as one of us – lying in manger.
Of course many minds turn off at that point. In the first centuries of Christianity the general world view often felt that it really was scandalous and offensive that the divine would clothe itself in the messiness and inferior quality of body and blood, muscle and sinew, all those yucky fluids, limitation and decay. Gods might play in bodies – make appearances – but not live in them – and certainly not die in them.
Yet because of an empty tomb we can wind time backwards as it were and look at this Jesus anew. And when it comes to his childhood and his infancy – and the fanciful accounts of his birth – who truly believes angels and virgin births? – suddenly don’t seem so crazy. So that is what Mary and Joseph were on about – Mary didn’t fool around with some fellow – Joseph wasn’t the idiot who made another man’s child his first born – God was involved in his plan to rescue people.
People? Interesting word. Who? You and me. Anyone who hears the message – God is with us to save us – rescue us – rescue you.
And today many minds turn off because unless we’re in real trouble, the question of rescue is often academic. That’s nice people say – God has rescued me – didn’t know I needed it really – deep down I have my flaws but I’m not that bad a person – sure, I could improve here and there but basically this model isn’t too bad.
Today we seem to think that God could have done worse than become a human being and if he wants to come as one of us that’s ok but we hear any talk of sin as meaning we’re bad people and we’re sophisticated enough to regard life as grey – situational – circumstantial – rather than black or white and so we don’t really need rescuing – though we might need some help from time to time.
The baby in the manger is God’s shout to humanity about how serious our situation is for living is actually not about good or bad people or good or bad behaviour but about relationships – either it’s rebelling against God or it is trusting God. The baby in the manger through to Jesus in Jerusalem on the cross is God in specific action against rebellion and death for he was born, lived, and died as one of us so we could die to rebellion, be born again and live with him.
The baby in the manger is God’s shout to humanity about how great is his love for us and it sets in motion encounters now through water, bread and wine – again the finite containing the infinite – where this same Jesus who was born for us – is with us here – now – making people new creations who still struggle with sin. But the struggle – the living with God – this faith and trust in his words to us – have their basis in God’s good news about what he has done for us and that message never leaves us untouched, unmoved, remote and that message never shifts focus away from this single, historical Jesus – conceived by the Holy Spirit born of the Virgin Mary.
Only in this Jesus can we and will we meet God … and that goes for everyone!