Hark, the Herald Angels Sing #1
Emmanuel, God with us. You know those are easy words to say but hard to wrap our minds around.
In the book, Dear God, Children’s Letters to God, one young man wrote, “Dear God, was there anything special about Bethlehem or did you just figure that that was as good a place as any to start a franchise? Your friend, Jim age 12.”
Like 12 year old Jim, a lot of people have problems with how God took off the royal robes, stepped out of Heaven and put on the rags of our existence to become one of us; and a baby at that. Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God came in the form of a newborn baby. They expected him to come in like a king, not as an infant. Not helpless and humble. Some people still have trouble with that. They have trouble with the whole idea of the incarnation, of God becoming human.
It’s not that they just don’t understand it, I have a hard time understanding the how of the Incarnation. I was always taught 1+1=2 but in God’s math 1+1=1. Jesus is God Incarnate, God in the flesh, God with us. God as one of us. The thing is there are some who can’t or won’t accept a God who would become truly human and die for their sins. But not Paul, Listen to what he says: Philippians 2:5-11 (NRSV)
 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
While Paul doesn’t use the name Emmanuel, he describes perfectly it’s meaning in Jesus. God IS with us because Jesus emptied himself and humbled himself and put on our human form. And that was a major surprise. No one expected God to do that. But God always surprises us.
That’s why God chose Bethlehem. God thought it was the perfect place. God chose Bethlehem for the same reason that he chose John the Baptist and the disciples. It was unexpected. AND it was all about God, not the city, not the people, not anything but God.
The truth is that: God with us, Emmanuel, can be very frightening or very comforting. As long as God’s up there someplace, then God’s not so disturbing or challenging, we don’t have to take God’s Word as seriously. But if God is here, walking among us, then there’s no hiding from God or God’s Word. It means God’s Will becomes our imperative. And it challenges us to embrace God’s Will or run the other direction.
I personally find it comforting and exciting to think that God humbled himself and came to be born in a stable in the tiny town of Bethlehem in order to show us His love, His purpose and His grace. To me, that’s Good News which brings hope into a world filled with so much hopelessness.
One of the reasons I think we find it hard to understand is that we’ve settled for the appearance of perfection in our society for so long that real perfection frightens us. We don’t know what to make of it or whether to believe it. The photos of beautiful models are airbrushed to make them even more beautiful. We go through great pains to appear younger.
And the sad thing is that we can’t even admit it to ourselves because if we did, it would prove just how imperfect we really are. It would prove just and how fallen we are as a people. And if we did that, how could God, let alone anyone else, ever love us.
II. RAISED UP:
But don’t you see, that’s the Good News. We don’t have to be perfect. God doesn’t expect perfection. God expects obedience, but not perfection. That’s why Jesus was born in Bethlehem. That’s why God chose a carpenter and his wife and not some lord with oodles of money. It was God’s choice, God chose to be like us. And by becoming one of us, by being born as a helpless infant, we are lifted up and raised up, which makes it possible for us to become like Christ.
Let me tell you about Alice. Alice lived in an orphanage. And she was going through it all once again. Every time it happened what little hope she had, decreased that much more. It was always the same. There would be the call to come to the office where she could hear the muffled voices discussing her on the other side of the door. Words like “slow” or “difficult” were often used.
They would ask her in; then there would be an inch by inch scrutiny. And she hated it. She felt like a specimen under a microscope or a slab of meat hanging in a butcher shop not the homeless, parentless little girl that she was. She remembered how one woman wouldn’t even look at her after she saw how poorly her dress fit. Or the time they laughed at her because she stuttered. Worst of all were the times she was rejected because they said her clubfoot would make her too clumsy even to be a serving girl.
All the bad memories came back again as she stood under the searching gaze of the young man and woman sitting in front of her. She was afraid to even hope. She felt very self-conscious and tried to hide her misshapen foot behind the good one.
Alice thought the young woman was beautiful. Her hair was soft and her face was clean. Her long dress flowed all the way to the floor.
The man slowly walked around Alice. At times he would stop, glance toward his wife and raise an eyebrow. He circled Alice a couple of times and then went over and took the seat next to his wife. They looked into one another’s eyes for a long time, never saying a word. Then he turned to the superintendent and said, “Yes, she’s the one. We would like to have her.”
The superintendent just shook his head in disbelief.
Alice was stunned. “You m-m-mean y-y-you want m-m-me t-t-to b-b-be your s-s-serving g-g-girl?”
The pretty young woman just smiled and said, “No, Alice. We want you to be our daughter.”
Alice couldn’t believe it. No one had ever said that before. She had dreamed of it but she could hardly believe it. “You really want me to be your daughter . . . to live with you in your house?” Alice wasn’t even aware that she didn’t stutter.
The man said, “Yes. We’ve never had any children. We have so much love to give, and we want to give it to you. We want you to be happy.”
Remembering the many times that she had been turned down, Alice asked, “But why me?”
With that, the woman smiled, slowly reached down and pulled up her floor length dress to reveal her own malformed foot. Then with reassurance and understanding she said to Alice. “Today, we want you to be our child. Please, Alice, let us love you.”
Alice was lifted up to become like them. And you see, that’s what it’s all about. That’s why God came as one of us, Emmanuel.
As one of us, as the infant Jesus and the man Jesus, God experience the hurts and the pains, the struggles and the failures which we face every day. God knows the joys of life and God knows the temptations of life. Through the birth of Jesus in that stable, God came, not just looking like one of us, but truly as one of us, Emmanuel.
If we believe anything less than that, we fall into the trap of believing that God will only accept what or who is perfect. And that would mean that none of us could qualify.
But instead, just like the young couple, all God asks is that, “We let Him love us.” That’s why Christ came, that’s why he was born in Bethlehem, that’s why he suffered and died, to show us just how much God does love us.
It was God’s Will that Jesus step out of heaven and put on the rags of our existence and become one of us. It was God’s Will but it was Jesus’ choice. Jesus chose to do God’s Will.
The mystery of this season is that God IS with us. God’s not just up there somewhere, looking down every now and then to thump us on the head or flick our ear to get us back in line. Or to shake the foundations of the earth to remind us He’s in charge. God isn’t some distant observer like watching someone else play a video game. And God certainly isn’t a puppeteer.
But God IS here. Through the birth of Christ & the outpouring of Holy Spirit, God IS walking with us, experiencing everything we experience. God is trying to break into our world and into our lives, every moment of every day, simply to remind us God loves us. Purpose of Christmas, the purpose of birth of this baby, Emmanuel, is to make us aware of God’s presence with us.
Our Savior came in the most unlikely way, in the most unlikely place at a very unlikely time. But, our Savior Came.
Christmas isn’t about what’s under the tree. Christmas is about the simplest yet most extravagantly expensive gift ever given. A gift so large it won’t fit under the tree; a gift so small that it can get lost in the wrapping paper & trappings of our celebrations.
It’s a gift so big and so small and so precious that it will only fit in our hearts, so that the light and the joy of this gift can shine through us into a world filled with darkness and sin.
This is what Christmas is really all about; the birth of a baby who came into the world in humble circumstances; a baby who grew to be our Savior; a baby who was Emmanuel, God with us.
Today God is saying to each of us: “I want you to be my child. Please, let me love you.”
As you come to share in the Sacrament in a few moments, come and receive this gift of love which God offers to you. And let God love you. God is with us.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.