December 19, 2010
by Elaine Maust
I am preaching about the incarnation today, not because I understand it. I do not. And I will not attempt to explain the incarnation. I can not. Instead, I hope to celebrate the intelligence, love and imagination of a God who would – who could – come to live with us.
Jesus. Immanuel. God with us.
Things were desperate for Ahaz, king of Judah. Turn to Is. 7 for this story. Some of the enemy nations, Israel and Aram, were plotting against him. V2 says King Ahaz and all the people were so scared they “were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.”
God sent word, (v4) “be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart…” That deserves note, good instructions for us just about now. Right?
Then the prophet Isaiah comes through with the punch line. A message from God. A sign that God was still in charge and had a plan. Isaiah 7:14
St. Matthew quoted this verse from Isaiah in Matthew 1:23.
Immanuel. God with us. That’s what the name means. So when we sing, “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” during Advent, we are singing, “Oh God, come be with us.”
On Saturday we will celebrate the answer to that appeal. Christmas. God sending Jesus to be with us.
This morning I invite you to consider just three of the ways in which God is with us through Jesus. With us in pain. With us in sin. With us in joy.
With us in Sin
From the very beginning this was God’s motive. Finding us in our sin and bringing us out. When Adam and Eve sinned, they hid themselves. There was God (Gen 3) walking out into the garden, hunting for them. God has been doing that ever since.
And like Adam and Eve who hid from God when they sinned, people, okay, we tend to think if we can’t see God when we’ve done wrong, then God can’t see us. A little like the toddler who covers her eyes with her hands thinking no one can see her.
And so knowing our sin, God interfered. Jesus came down here and lived with us. Not because God needed to check things out. See what was really going on down here. But so that we could see what was going on with God all along. That God loved us and had a plan for our mistaken and meaningless lives.
And not only that. Immanuel, God with us, went on to die for that sin. Took our sin to the cross. Made us his children. (John 1:10-12) Took the beating for our sin on his own back and face and hands. Came to be with us in our sin. Immanuel.
Debbie gave me permission to tell you something important from their family.
Buddy and Debbie Hartman’s oldest daughter, Kayla, was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 2 years old. As a little girl, Kayla needed shots to adjust her blood sugar levels, to keep her alive. By the time Kayla was about 9, about the age of her sister, Sarah, it became clear that to have any independence, Kayla would need to learn to give herself the insulin shots. If she could give her own shots, she could spend the night with a friend without Debbie needing to come over to give the shots. But how does one learn to give shots when you are only 9 years old?
It was Buddy, Kayla’s step-father, who came up with a solution. “Give the shots to me,” he said. Buddy pulled up his shirt and Kayla practiced and practiced. She gave Buddy dozens of shots in his belly, until she felt confident enough to give them to herself.
Our sin called for drastic measures on God’s part. Interpreters Commentary said, “there is something about God that made this inevitable.” We could have known God would find a way to show us love. And God did, remarkable and radical, Jesus coming down to earth to take care of our sin through his death and resurrection. God, with us in our sin. Coming to make us, children of God. Joel Heck writes, “God didn’t become a man to impress anyone… Jesus became like us, so we could become like him.”
With us in Pain
Here’s something remarkable. God was with us before Jesus ever came. With us all along. The Old Testament brims with the “with us” stories. Hagar, the slave, had a miserable life as part of Abraham’s dysfunctional family. Gen 16, she is pregnant and runs away. (v7) God’s angel finds Hagar out in the desert and tells her to name her baby Ishmael, which means, “God hears,” saying “the Lord has heard of your misery.” Then Hagar gives God a special nickname: “you are the God who sees me.”
Later, abused, she ran away again. This time with Ishmael. Back in the desert, giving him up for dead. (Gen. 21). Verse 16 says, “God heard the boy crying” and showed Hagar where to find water.
The poetry of the Old Testament beats across the ages with the message that God is with us. Ps. 23: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear not, for thou art with me.” From Isa. 43:2 & 5: “When you pass through the wasters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you… Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
But still humanity wondered, does God care? Is God here? Can God know?
Forever and for all times, God answered that question with Jesus. Jesus, with us. Jesus, whose head hurt, who got hungry and angry, who loved and died and cried. God didn’t need to come to earth to experience our pain. Jesus came so that we would know that God understood and was here all along.
“I remember the day our youngest son was weeping in the back seat of our car as we left home for a mission task to which we felt a deep sense of call but to which he did not want to accompany us. We stopped the car, and I asked Jewel to take the wheel. I crawled into the back seat with him, and together we wept as we went…. Years later when the same son preached his first sermon in another land, he began by telling that story and saying, ‘That’s why I can preach in your language today.’” (Richard Showalter, On the Way with Jesus)
With us in our pain. God is here. When Jesus prepared to go back to heaven in Matthew 28:20 (KJV): “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”
Immanuel, God with us. Through all the ages, forever and now!
With us in Joy
What is it about kids? They beg the grown-ups they love to play with them. “Please, Daddy, please, play ball with me.” “Please, auntie, please. Please get in the pool with us.”
Ann was one of my best childhood friends. There were two boys and two girls in her family, of almost exactly the same age as the two girls and two boys in my family. Both of us had a mother and a father and a pickup truck as our sole transportation. We were country neighbors; they lived a mile down the gravel road past our farm.
Sometimes once a summer, our families would load up in the pickup truck for the big trip to Choctaw Lake, about an hour from our home. We were already sunburned when we arrived. Our parents looked strange in swim suits. As if a horse tried to fit in a cow’s skin. We stared at them. And we begged them to come swimming with us.
Ann’s daddy, Joe, was a big man with eyes the color of blue ice. He was good at driving a back-hoe and drinking beer. I cannot remember the sound of his voice because I never remember him speaking. But here’s what I remember. Ann’s dad went swimming with us. And he smiled. It was scandalous.
Grown-ups don’t need to play with children. Grownups already know how to throw or kick or swim. Grownups would often rather sit in the shade than run through the sprinkler or splash in a mud puddle. But the joy of playing with a child is a joy to be sought. The kind of joy God sought in coming to earth.
Jesus, Immanuel, God with us in our joy.
If our only picture of Jesus is on the cross, then we have something important, but we are missing something significant. Jesus’ birth was announced as “good news of great joy.” Jesus’ first miracle was at a celebration, a wedding reception. Jesus shared the joy of those he healed, those he raised from the dead and their families. When Jesus taught about not worrying about the future, he said, in a version of stop and smell the roses, “consider the lilies… (this is my translation) They don’t sew or smock, but even Kate Middleton with all her fashion conscious handlers, is not dressed as splendidly.” And what a story teller! Some of those stories Jesus told would have been tough to do with a straight face.
God, with us, in our joy.
God becoming a person. The scandal of the incarnation. It’s pretty tough for us to wrap our minds around, isn’t it? Mechtild of Megdenburg described God’s incompressibility like this: “Of the heavenly things God has shown me, I can speak but a little word, not more than a honeybee can carry away on its foot from an overflowing jar.”
God, the God of heaven, the God who created the universe, came to live here? To get dirt under his fingernails and sand on his feet. To get tired and sweaty and lonely? To be tempted to sin, to be annoyed by his relatives and frustrated with his friends. C.S. Lewis said, “If you want to get the hang of (this incarnation stuff), think how you would like to become a slug.” Because God came not as some superhero, but as a completely dependent human baby.
It is okay, we don’t have to understand all the whys and hows of Jesus’ divine and human life. We can rest with this. God loved us and exercised a vast imagination to come to live with us, dwell with us, “to pitch a tent” as in John 1:14 (KJV). “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Immanuel. God with us. With us in Jesus. But with us as dramatically this Christmas season. With us in our sin, our pain, and our joy. God did not need to come to earth to understand our life. But Jesus came to convince us that God’s been here all along and always will be. With us.
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (II Cor. 9:15)