The Nativity of our Lord – Christmas Day
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory…”
People today often ask the question, “Where in the world is God?” Even Christians, in their not-so-fine moments are tempted with doubt and unbelief when they fail to find evidence of his presence with them. For many, God is simply an impersonal force, uninterested in the day to day activities of his creatures. When tragedy strikes, Christians becomes easy targets for Atheists who do not believe in the existence of a divine personality. They challenge us with the question that we cannot answer with visible proof: “Where was your God? Why did he not come to help and stop this thing from happening?”
Where in the world is God? Too often God is seen even by Christians as someone who is more like Zeus on Mt. Olympus. He is far out of reach, someone that does not want to be bothered with our petty problems. He is inaccessible, invisible, and uncaring. He is someone that we must reach up to the heavens to grasp. Even pastors are not immune to thinking that God has forgotten us, or that He is far away. We shake our fists in the air at the heavens and wonder when God will act.
All of this doubt and unbelief must fly out the window when we hear the words of John’s Gospel today: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory.” For these words tell us beyond a shadow of a doubt where God is and how we can find him. No longer can we accuse God for not considering our deepest needs. No longer can the Christian say that God is far away from him. No longer can the Atheist’s challenge that God is not real go unanswered. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” It doesn’t get any more real than that!
Christmas tells us that the God who seemed so far removed from the world is in fact closer than we could imagine. Heaven is no longer beyond human comprehension, but is among humans in the body of Mary’s Son. The invisible God has become visible in the Incarnation of God’s Son. This is why ancient Christians did not believe they were committing idolatry for having images of Christ, or crosses with the body of Jesus on them: for Christ himself is the image of the invisible God. To see Jesus is to see the Father. “We have seen His glory, the glory of the only-begotten God, full of grace and truth.”
Without the incarnation of the Son of God, God remains forever aloof, removed from the world, a mere impersonal force. His mind remains a mystery to us. He might love us, but then again, he might hate us too. There is no real way of knowing what his attitude is towards us. He could tell us that He loves us, but there would be no real concrete proof of that. At Christmas God ceases to be aloof and inaccessible to the human. No longer is He a God who merely “sits in the heavens and laughs,” but by joining our nature to His, He has come within reach. Scripture teaches us that this was His will all along. This was not something foreign to God’s nature.
Even in the Old Testament He showed His people that He was a God who desired to dwell with His people. He did so through the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and later the Temple in Jerusalem. God instructed Moses to build a Tent where the Glory of God would dwell. Much of the book of Exodus is devoted to describing the dimensions and furnishings of this Tent. It was to be a Tent of Meeting, a place where God would dwell and make himself accessible to His people, and a place where sinful man might find the God of heaven.
As good as this was, it was still imperfect. It was not ideal. It was only a shadow, you see, a type of what was to come later. In this arrangement, God dwelt with his people, but not yet in such a way that He completely identified with them in their humanity. They could approach him, but not without coverings and separations. Priests were allowed to go into the holy of holies, but that was only once a year.
John tells us today that God took up a permanent residence among his people. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word for “dwelt” in the Greek is the same word that was used for this “Tent” of meeting in the Old Testament. God’s new tent was not made with hands, but was taken from our own flesh and blood. In Christ, says the holy apostle, “the fullness of God dwelt bodily.”
If the Tent of Meeting in the Old Testament was the place where God dwelt with man and man approached the holy God, then how much more is this true in the body of Christ, whose flesh is now the veil that covers and “hides” as it were the Glory of God. If God was with His people in the Tabernacle in the wilderness, how much more is He with us now in the Person of His incarnate Son, whose very named means: “God with us.” If the people could look to the Tabernacle, and the holy of holies and point and say, “We have seen his glory,” how much more can we point to Jesus and say with John, “We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father.”
To the human eye, there was nothing overly divine about this new Tent. Jesus looked no more impressive than any other man. If you were to judge by appearances only, then you would have to conclude that God was far away from that first Christmas. Nothing seemed to go as planned. Mary had an “unplanned” pregnancy, and now they had to go to their home town to register. Since there was no internet in the 1st century and no cell phones either, there was no “planning ahead” with lodging either. “There was no room for them at the inn.” It was a bit like the family vacations I recall growing up–no reservations were made ahead of time, and sometimes my father would come out of the lobby with no room keys.
If anything this shows us that God is not above working in and through the seemingly chaotic circumstances of life. He does not wait for everything to be just so before acting. God is not a perfectionist. He is at work in the messiest of situations. He is present for the Christian mother who is at wits end in the chaos of homelife. He is with the family for whom nothing ever seems to go right. He is with the Church where His Word is preached and His Sacrament administered despite the faults and failings of her members. At Christmas we can rejoice that we have a God who is pleased to dwell with man, even in the worst of circumstances.
If Christmas teaches us that God dwelt on earth as man, then Good Friday tells us why this was necessary. The Word became flesh, not merely to remain on earth and to be adored and served, but in order to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. God’s coming to earth as man was not an end in itself, but it made it possible for God to remove the curse of sin that He had originally placed on Adam in the Garden. “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the Law.” There was a divine and holy purpose for this event, one that would be realized finally at Calvary, where the Son of Mary would bow his head in death on behalf of sinners.
The Old Testament saints had the Tabernacle. The disciples had Jesus Himself, visible to the eyes, standing before them, in the flesh. We have not been short-changed, for today we have the blessed Sacrament of the Altar, where Christ comes to us in the same flesh and blood that He received from Mary, hidden as it were in the forms of bread and wine. Here is our Tabernacle, our Tent of Meeting, where Christ comes to dwell and we can approach Christ. Here at the altar the inaccessible God becomes accessible to us, so much so that we even take Him within ourselves.
Here at the altar it is always Christmas, and the angels always sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” Here God comes to us week after week, forgiving our sins and nourishing our needy souls with His Spirit. The world asks, “Where in the world is God?” And the Christian answers, “He is here! He is with us!” Even in the Church God is not far removed, somewhere “up there” beyond our reach, but as He was in His Incarnation, so He is here for us. Here we say with St. John: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Amen.