+ Christmas Eve+
December 24, 2010
Emmanuel, God with us! (Prepositions of Christmas)
God and us; us and God. Not exactly so very clear when you put it like that, with the simple conjunction “and” -- is it. Just as the familiar carol reminds us that we need at least 12 days to unwrap all the gifts of Christmas, so also we need the prepositions of Christmas to tell us how things really stand vis a vis God and us. Because a preposition usually indicates the relationship of its object to the rest of the sentence, getting the prepositions of Christmas correct will have a significant impact on the meaning of this day. How to get it right? We turn for help to St. Matthew, who tells us: So the Lord's promise came true, just as the prophet had said, "A virgin will have a baby boy, and he will be called Immanuel," which means "God is with us."
By looking at the prepositions of Christmas revealed in the Holy Bible, all of our fears and doubts about how things really stand between God and us are resolved.
1. Not against -- God is FOR us. The prophet Isaiah said it so well: For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. St. Paul said, if God is for us, who can be against us? And Luther said in his Small Catechism concerning the Sacrament of the Altar, he is truly worthy and well-prepared who had faith in these words, Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
2. Not without -- God is IN us. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
3. Not foreign -- God is LIKE us. Therefore in all things He had to be made like his brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God.
4. Not distant -- God is NEAR us. For the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the participation of the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the participation of the body of Christ?
5. Not opposed -- God is OVER us. He watching over Israel slumbers not nor sleeps.
6. Not apathetic -- God is UNDER us. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before you; and shall say, Destroy them.
7. Not beyond -- God is WITH us; in our birth, body, pain and death. In 1745, Charles Wesley published Hymns for the nativity of our Lord.
Let earth and heaven combine, angels and men agree
To praise in song divine th’incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.
He laid his glory by, he wrap’d Him in our clay
Unmarked by human eye the latent Godhead lay,
Infant of days he here became, and bore the loved Immanuel’s name.
See in that infant’s face the depths of Deity,
And labor while ye gaze to sound the mystery,
In vain; ye angels gaze no more, but fall, and silently adore.
Unsearchable the love that hath the Savior brought,
The grace is far above or men or angel’s thought:
Suffice for us, that God, we know, our God is manifest below.
He deigns in flesh t’appear, widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near, and make us all divine,
And we the life of God shall know, for God is manifest below.
Made perfect first in love, and sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove and see his glorious face,
His love shall then be fully showed, and man shall all be lost in God.
"Dr. Richard Selzer wrote a penetrating book entitled Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery. In it he writes:
I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in a palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of a facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, had been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.
Her husband is in the room. He stands on the bed, and together, they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight. Isolated from me, private, Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze at each other, and touch each other generously, greedily?
The young woman speaks. 'Will I always be like this?' she asks. 'Yes,' I say. 'It is because the nerve was cut.' She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. 'I like it,' he says. 'It's kind of cute.'
All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show that their kiss still works. I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.
That is the spirit of Jesus. Man's link with God had been severed through sin. And He twisted Himself to accommodate us, and give us the kiss of eternal life. But not without giving His own life on our behalf. Jesus. At the same time, so tender and powerful. The most remarkable figure ever to have lived. And why not? He was God incarnate.
The birth of Jesus split history like a thunderbolt on a hot July evening. Everything before His birth we call B.C., before Christ. Everything after, we call A.D., anno Domini, in the year of our Lord."