This Christmas Day let’s celebrate the God who came down and wants a relationship with us.
Since the beginning of time human beings have believed in gods – small ‘g’. The gods they believed in lived far, far away, out of reach, lords of the heavens. If they communicated with humans at all it was at a distance, perhaps through the movement of a star – which is one reason why wise men seeking the birth of one born King of the Jews looked up to the skies.
But for the most part the gods were not only distant but also disinterested in the affairs of the earth and its largely insignificant inhabitants. So that if you were interested in these gods, you had to seek them out, often through secret knowledge or words, or you’d bribe them through offerings to make themselves known, or to act in some way. Though in truth the last thing most gods – wanted was to be known by the likes of us! They were, after all, above and beyond it all.
Yet despite this, humans created gods of all sorts of things. There were gods of the weather and the seasons, of fertility and barrenness, of health and wealth, of protection and danger, of life and death, most everything really.
No surprise then that the Roman and Greek cultures dominating the world at the time of Jesus’ birth had hundreds of such gods for dozens of situations, to whom prayers were made and gifts offered. Anything to catch their attention, to come out of hiding, to get them on your side.
The ancient gods had this much in common: they were distant and disinterested.
It was The One True God, God with a capital ‘G’, God Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who broke the mould of the distant, disinterested god.
God came down
This One True God was not created by humans but instead created them, and placed them in a beautiful world and told them to flourish.
Nor was this God disinterested. Because when God’s loved and lovely humans rebelled almost before the paint of paradise was dry, God was devastated. Other, lesser gods would have just walked away and left us to it!
But this God didn’t. Instead of hiding away, this God sent prophets and messengers, symbols and signs, law and love, urging his sinful humankind to come back home. And yet time and time again we rejected God’s invitation of life, choosing our own pitiful, violent, selfish ways instead.
Then this One True God did something truly wonderful. “If they won’t listen to my prophets or obey my laws,” God said, “I will go to them myself. I will show them how to live. And I will pay the price that forgives their sins myself, in blood.”
And so God made flesh, God with skin on, Jesus Christ, God’s holy and only Son, came among us. Born to one of us and born as one of us.
Those we called gods – small ‘g’ – were disinterested in humanity: but the One True God lays his life down for us. Those gods needed seeking out, but this God comes to seek us. Those gods used megaphones, while this God quietly speaks of dying love to us. Those we called gods were distant. This One True God came close. And still does.
God who is close
Some years ago, a friend of mine wrote a book called Finding Faith Today. It arose from several hundred interviews with folk who had at that time recently come to a living Christian faith. Some used the language of conversion, some the language of journey. Some marked their faith by baptism or confirmation, some by confession. And in reflecting on these many testimonies the key ways people today find faith became clearer.
Some of the factors were unsurprising. For instance, very few of us respond positively to the gospel of Christ the first time we hear it. Rather, most of us come to say ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ because, many times, over time, those we like and love and respect show us love and care, and gently and clearly invite us to follow Jesus. And pray that we do – until we do.
But some of the factors were more surprising. Particularly the responses to the question, “What have you learned about God since you came to faith?”
Because there was one very dominant response. And it was this. “Before I came to faith I thought God was unknowable, distant and remote, unfeeling, that God wasn’t bothered about me. Now I know that God loves me, is close to me, and is real to me, and that’s changed my life.”
“And you shall call his name Emmanuel, which means God is with us.” God who comes close.
That is what is happening in the stable at Bethlehem, in the life and death and resurrection of the Holy One born there, and ever since, right down to this very special Christmas Day.
God who redeems us
You see, if God is closer than we think, then we don’t have to travel very far to find God. God wants to be found. In a stable, by shepherds and wise people, yes, for sure. But also by you and me, today, now. We, who are healthy and sick, vital and tired, contented and questioning, cynical and open… those of us with sins and crosses in our lives – because he went to one to redeem us, and offer hope and life, to all of us. Each of us. Every one of us. Including those who we love, and are concerned for, and so want them to experience the nearness, the closeness of God in their lives today…
Christianity. What is it?
The Greeks made it into a philosophy. The Romans made it into an institution. The Middle Ages made it into an Empire. The Enlightenment made it into a culture. The Church repeatedly tries to make it into a mere organisation, and the West makes it a disposable hobby, a past-time.
But in the end Christianity is a relationship, a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Who loves you and offers his life to you.
Today, on this Christmas Day, this special day of Emmanuel, draw still closer to the One who draws close to you. Amen.