FINDING EMMANUEL IN THE STUFF OF CHRISTMAS
There is something rather solemn about arranging the figures in a nativity scene, handling the symbols of things too wonderful for the human mind to grasp. It tells of the mighty God meeting ordinary people in the commonplace, and symbolises that most profound truth: we do not have to climb up to God, He comes down to us and meets us where we are.
God’s heart in creating man was that He would live amongst people and have fellowship with them, alone amongst creation humankind was made in His image. And so we read in Genesis, ‘He walked with Adam (which also means ‘man’) in the cool of the day’—what a beautiful picture of intimacy.
The fulfilment of that desire is one of the key themes of the Bible: after the Fall when the human-divine relationship was dislocated, the Lord sought out, first individuals as friends, and then the nation of Israel as His dwelling place [Leviticus 26:11].
For Israel, the Ark of the Covenant was the place where the Presence of God rested. When it was carried by specially appointed priests, before the people, at the Lord’s instigation, great victories were won. When at rest, the Ark was laid in the Temple, in the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest could enter, and only once a year. The Presence was with Israel, but generally hidden from the eyes of ordinary people.
For King David it wasn’t enough, he yearned to experience the Lord's Presence, knowing instinctively he was created for intimate relationship. He was a man ahead of his time, a prophet who brought the things of the future into his present. David set up a tabernacle where there was no Holy of Holies, everyone had access to the Ark of the Presence—and the result was a period of unparalleled praise and worship [1 Chronicles 15-16]. It was a prophetic demonstration of a time coming when the Presence of God would be accessible to all.
THE GOOD NEWS OF CHRISTMAS
This is the good news of Christmas: Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us’—the mighty God has come amongst us and is still with us today, through His Holy Spirit.
The message of Christmas is not about sacred places, special services, forms or rituals. There is no specially selected ‘priestly caste’ in this story. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth cry out to us that God comes to the ordinary, in order to restore His original purpose. It’s not a tale of man’s efforts to claw his way up to an inaccessible God, but rather the story of the passionate desire of Almighty God to come and manifest His presence and glory in the ordinary.
Christmas celebrates the Lord's fulfilment of the promise of old:
My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.
Let's make sure in this final period before the festival, we don't get so busy we miss the whole point!
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Why not spend some time in silence before a nativity scene and let the Word, the Lord, come to you as He did to the Shepherds in the quiet of the hillside and the Wise Men in their nightly star gazing. Let Him come and speak His good news into your heart. And then worship Him, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who became a helpless child for your sake.
GET IN TOUCH
[Photo credits: Debby Hudson (nativity scene); Jon Carlson (manger); Tim Umphreys (candle) @ Unsplash, with thanks]
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