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God showed up for Christmas

December 22, 2010 One Comment

by Robert Bugbee

Correggio, Nativity (Holy Night) (1528-30, oil on canvas, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden)

Correggio, Nativity (Holy Night) (1528-30, oil on canvas, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden)

God showed up. That’s what you and I will celebrate again this Christmas. So will hundreds of millions of others around the world. God showed up.

He didn’t show up as people expected. He certainly didn’t do it the way I would have chosen if I had made the decision. He didn’t ride in on a massive white horse or wave from an armoured tank. He didn’t parade down some Broadway-type main street where enormous crowds would be sure to see Him, and where cable news networks would grab the story and propel it to capital cities everywhere.

He didn’t call a press conference or walk over to waiting microphones to make pronouncements on relevant issues: tax policy, global warming, rising obesity rates, or how a world-class golfer messed up his marriage and disappointed the fans. He really didn’t do any of the things experts say you must do to get noticed and make a difference. Using their measurements, His way looked silly, weak and useless. Still, God showed up.

That’s the Good News of Christmas. Some people think the story is touching because a young man and wife struggled to find shelter far from home the night their baby was born. Getting turned down at the inn, making do with a manger-bed, later on rushing away in the night to escape soldiers trying to kill the Child … these things make for engaging pictures on greeting cards and for dreamy songs. But they are not the real heart of the Christmas Good News. After all, other babies came along in circumstances just as gripping. Many of them also were homeless, cold, chased and hunted.

The holy writer tells you what Christmas is about: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the Only-Begotten, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NIV). God became a Man in Jesus Christ. God, the Maker and Ruler of everything, is here in this Child. You don’t have to be confused about where to look for God. You don’t have to wonder how He feels about you. You find all these things—and many more besides—in Bethlehem’s Christ.

St. John had it right. He is “full of grace and truth.” In this Jesus you find out what the true God is determined to do. He could have decided to crush and destroy you because of all the ways you offended Him, and because of all the times you broke promises to Him. Instead, He sends to Bethlehem the dearest and best He has. This child lived the life you and I should have lived, but failed to live. This Christ grew to manhood, stretched out His arms one day in the sunshine and died in agony to take the rap for your wrongs and mine. The innocent One became the guilty, so you could go free. God’s beloved died abandoned, so you receive an honoured place at the Father’s family table. Bethlehem’s Christ did not come to bring you a little piece of grace, a single kindly gesture. He is full of grace.

Unlike some religious people, Christians are not primarily devoted to a set of principles or ideas.

He’s full of truth, too. In Jesus you learn the truth about yourself. You really are a sinner, and helpless. You’re powerless to fix your broken life on your own. The little Christ also shows the truth about God. He was determined to save and restore. He wants people so badly that He did not wait for Bethlehem to get itself combed up and ready to welcome this Holy Child. He went ahead and came to a town that shut the door in His face. In His Son He went ahead and lived, died, and rose again—all for your benefit, long before you took any interest in Him.

Unlike some religious people, Christians are not primarily devoted to a set of principles or ideas. We don’t push some “program” by which the world can fix itself. We’re stuck on a person—Christ. It’s in His face—and only in His face—that we find the true God. Christ is the One Who helps you deal with the past. He’s the One standing beside you in the present, forgiving your sins, welcoming your prayers, guiding the affairs of your life. Christ is your future, too. He looks forward to taking you into the company of saints and angels where you’ll sing the endless Christmas song, “Glory to God in the highest!”

God showed up for Christmas. He didn’t publish policies by which we make things better. He didn’t merely aim a few kind thoughts or words at you from afar. God became a man in Jesus Christ. In Jesus you find what the Lord wants you to have.

Dear friend, let me wish you the finest Christmas treasure of all: that you will make your way to Jesus in these days, to bow before Him, and to take the grace and truth He came to bring you.

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee is president of Lutheran Church–Canada

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