Without getting into the debate over the choice of December 25th as the designated birthday of Jesus, or the annual arguments of how Santa and flying reindeer enter the picture, or why we decorate dead trees inside our homes, or whether or not the wise men should be included in your Nativity crèche; today is the day we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus: the savior of the world, the Messiah, Immanuel – “God with us!”
For thousands of years prior to His incarnation, God reached out to human beings in love and tried to develop a relationship with us. God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden, as an angel He spoke to Abram and Sarai and sent them on a road trip, as fire He directed Moses, Aaron and Miriam to lead the Israelites on the protracted scenic route through the Sinai Peninsula, as the Holy Spirit She spoke through prophets from Huldah to Micah, and so on.
The fact that very few of these attempts resulted in human enlightenment says more about us than it does about God. We humans are notoriously stubborn and myopic. We seem to want our enlightenment handed to us. Now. On a silver platter. And yes, we want fries with that. It didn’t occur to ANY of the people God so patiently worked with, that the journey – the very reality and experiences of their lives – was the most important way to develop a relationship with God.
God refers to Godself as “I am who I am” in Exodus 3:14. God uses the present tense, always, because God IS. Jesus did the same, when He said, “I’m telling you, before Abraham was even born, I am.” (John 8:58) and “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.” (Mark 1:15) Paul continued in this vein at Athens when he said, “God did this so people would seek Him and perhaps reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist!” (Acts 17:27-28) God is intricately entwined in everything. God is the ultimate reality. And that is what God had been trying to teach us from the beginning of time. We just didn’t get it.
We needed a concrete, flesh-and-blood example to follow. We needed to see, feel, hear, taste and touch God, because we are just a bit slow on the uptake.
So to clarify things for us, God came to earth dressed as a baby called Jesus.
And in His incarnation, Jesus proved to Mary – and the rest of humanity – that God is embedded in the messy, excruciating, miracle of birth. He showed us that God is visible in the child’s awestruck wonder at seeing clouds floating in the sky for the first time, as well as the terrifying panic of losing sight of that child in the crowd of Jerusalem or Target.
God was in the sound of the Samaritan woman’s realization that she was really looking for God, not another boyfriend, when she spoke with Jesus by the well. God was in the scent of the immense net full of fish that convinced Peter that Jesus might be onto something. God was in the devastation, hopeless despair and skinned knee that Mary felt as she fell at the foot of the cross. God was the breath in Mary Magdalene’s gasp when she realized Jesus was not the gardener, and her laugh of indescribable elation as she ran off to find the other disciples and tell them Jesus was alive. And God lives in the words “I am with you always.”
God is in all the little details of our lives – giving a glass of water to the guy who mows the lawn, cuddling up next to our spouse, riding the subway to work and smiling with that homeless guy, driving the soccer carpool and listening to “What Does the Fox Say” 50 times because it makes the kids laugh hysterically, feeling that tingly warmth spread through your body as you pray, shoveling snow from both your own and your neighbor’s driveway, hearing the diagnosis and bravely holding Dad’s hand, planning a wedding and a baby shower at the same time for the same girl, and sobbing on the shoulder of a friend because the cat was hit by a car. God is in every single detail of living this life. We must experience this life in order to see how God is involved, because we learn by experience. God is with us.
That was just one of the myriad of things Jesus revealed to us by being born in a dusty manger, in a tiny town called Bethlehem, in a unimportant Roman outpost, on a small blue planet, oh so many years ago. He is God with us.