Imagine two characters in a book. They have their own world. They have their own story. In the midst of their story one character turns to the other and says, “Jenny, do you think we might be characters in a book”. To which Jenny responds, “I think you have too much time on your hands. I’m not letting you watch the Matrix anymore”. And John replies, “No, really. What if all this is a story created by someone else”. …
If the author wanted to let them know that they were indeed characters in a book, what would this author do? … Perhaps the author would leave clues throughout the story that would lead them to ask such questions. …. But, what if the author wanted more than just for them to ask questions? What if the author wanted them to really know her, not just question reality and entertain the possibility that they are characters in a story? … If the author wanted to introduce herself she wouldn’t speak at the pages of the book. She wouldn’t nestle herself up next to the pages. … The most effective way for an author to introduce herself to characters in her story is to write herself into the story so that she becomes a character in her own story. This is what Christians believe happened when Christ was born. In Jesus we experience God. (this is an image used by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity)
Of course God has made himself known to people in the Bible in numerous ways. In the Bible God communicated to people through dreams, through a burning bush, and through messengers like angels. God even manifested as a cloud which came to be called the Shekhinah. This cloud rested on the top of the mountain when Moses received the Law. This cloud travelled with the people in the wilderness and would rest on the Ark of the Covenant. God would use this manifestation of His glory to communicate with Moses as he led the people in the wilderness. This cloud was a mysterious way that God presented Himself to the people He was leading. It was a sight of power and holiness. It was fearful for most of the people. To the extent that the people were afraid to approach this Presence. On the mountain they asked Moses to speak to God for them because they were afraid. This same Presence would rest in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple- A part of the temple that housed the Ark of the Covenant and was only entered once per year, and only by the High Priest, and only on the holiest day of the year. The temple was like a nuclear reactor and God’s presence was treated like dangerous radiation. One wrong move could mean disaster. God’s power and holiness was understood and treated with respect and fear.
An author named Donald Miller once told a story about a man who was a Navy Seal who was part of a covert operation to free some people that had been taken hostage. They successfully penetrated past enemy lines and barged into the room where the hostages were kept. The hostages had been kept there for months. They had endured torturous conditions and were obviously traumatized. They were all crowded in the corner, laying down, submissive. Thinking, if they ignored what was going on they wouldn’t be hurt. The seal team yelled at the hostages to get up and follow them before they were found out and had to deal with enemy fire. The hostages, in their confused state, weren’t sure what to do. They were frozen with fear. They weren’t sure if it was a trick. They didn’t know who they could trust. The seal team wasn’t sure how to move these people. They couldn’t drag them out. … One of the soldiers got an idea. He put down his weapon and took off his helmet and curled up next to the hostages. … Suddenly he was one of them. Without his weapon and without his helmet they saw his humanity. He put his arms around them and stayed there a long time, until their eyes dared to meet his. He whispered, “follow me”. He stood up and one by one the hostages stood to follow him. The soldier became vulnerable so that the hostages would allow themselves to be rescued.
I wonder if something similar was happening when Jesus was born. This Shekhinah, the Holy Spirit, rested on Mary and she became pregnant (Luke 1:35). The God who the people were afraid of on the Holy Mountain would come to them gently and humbly. He would snuggle up to them and put his arm around them. … He would write himself into the story in a new way. As a baby. And through this flesh and blood he would show us God’s character, and ask us to follow him. Just as the Temple in Jerusalem was the place where God’s presence was experienced on earth, so now Jesus’ body would be the new temple. Jesus would be the place where God’s presence was experienced.
God came to us as a baby- vulnerable and weak. In need of warmth, milk, and attention. He came as the child of an ordinary girl, from a fairly ordinary family. He came where there was no room for him and so he was placed in an animal’s feeding trough. When God wrote himself into the story of humanity- when He wanted to give the clearest image of Himself- this is how He came. Not as a king, or an emperor. He came as a child of ordinary people.
As he grew we would see God even more clearly as he spoke about God’s love for humanity- His scandalous acceptance of those the religious would not accept- those they would call sinners. He touched the untouchable, and healed the hopeless. He wept at the grave of a friend and then raised him from the dead. He taught us to love- telling us to forgive as we want to be forgiven- To not heap judgment on each other. He taught us to love with no boundaries, so we are to love even our enemies. He taught us to release our anxieties and fears and trust God. He opened himself up to love and that means leaving himself open to rejection. He made himself vulnerable and humanity nailed him to a cross as he spoke words of forgiveness over them. In Jesus we see the character of God. God is not the angry old man in the clouds throwing thunder bolts at sinners. If we want to see God clearly, we look at Jesus.
What Jesus made possible was God living intimately in us. We are invited to become the body of Christ. If we dare live as if this is the story we are living in, then we open ourselves to the possibility of God coming again in human flesh- through us. We become vessels of God’s presence. When we love, God loves through us. When we show compassion, we become God’s lips and arms to comfort a hurting world.
There are plenty of examples of Christ followers who are less than loving. But, let’s not criticize a hospital because it contains sick people. Let’s look at those who have been healed and transformed through Christ’s Church. Let’s look at people like Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa, Desmond Tutu, and Martin Luther King- Maybe even Pope Francis. Look to those who are the shining lights of humanity. In them we see what we can become with God dwelling inside us.
At Christmas we fill our lives with tinsel and lights and cookies and presents. And that’s okay. We should celebrate. We should be extravagant. But we should be careful that all this doesn’t overshadow what is really happening at Christmas. We are being offered the opportunity for Christ to be born in our hearts. You might feel like your heart is an unfit place for the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. You might think of some of the dark thoughts that reside in your heart. … Well, remember that he was willing to lay in a manger surrounded by animals. He is willing to rest in our hearts as unfit as we might feel to have him there. He will come and he will make them fit for him if we are open to being part of his story.