Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Sunday, December 19, 2010

This shall be sign

God has a message for us that he doesn’t want us to miss.  That message, simply put is “I love you.”  Now God has a problem.  He doesn’t normally actually speak, but God still has a way of being very direct and congruent.  Now, I myself have never heard the voice of the Lord  -  but I have seen the love of God displayed in many ways.  One of my favorite Palms is Psalm 136.  Over and over again the Palmist affirms the love of God, with that repetitive phrase, “His love endures forever!”  Why can the Psalmist say this?  Because of what God has done, in history.  In the world that surrounds us.   God has made creation.  God has acted in history.  God has provided for the people.  God’s love is there for all to see.  It has been fleshed out!

But the most powerful way God ever expressed his love, ever “fleshed out” his love was in the child in the manger..  As the angels pronounced the birth of Jesus to the Shepherds they uttered this very important phrase.  “And this will be a sign. . . “ A sign is something which points the way.  It is something which identifies and defines.  This baby, was a sign!  To think about it another way, this baby was the body language of God.  What was God trying to say?

Some have said that, since one of the names for Jesus was “Immanuel”, which means “God with us”, that this was the message of Jesus birth.  “I am with you.”  Not a bad start.  We might call the ministry of Jesus “Project Immanuel.”

But there is more to it than that.  For there is more contained in the baby than just the message that God is with us, although that is an absolutely core message.  There is also the message of HOW God is with us.  God could have staged his arrival any way he wanted.  God could have come as a warrior King, emphasizing power.  God  could have come as an apparition in the clouds, emphasizing glory and majesty.  But God came as a little baby – emphasizing love.  Not just love, but agape, God’s unique kind of love.

Agape love is unique because it is giving not seeking.  It does not demand value, it creates value.  It does not look back, at what has been, but looks forward to what might be.  If we look at the Christmas birth, all that becomes clear.

Here we have a baby.  A little defenseless one.  One born in poverty.  Visited by the shepherds, the poorest of the poor.  One who was, at least at his birth, homeless, basically a street person.  In this odd choice of an arrival God shows that he came to be with people.  I mean really with them.  Not with them in a condescending manner, not in superficial way, but with them – in all the pain, hunger, frustration and despair of human existence.

God’s arrival, in that wee baby, was a sign.  It pointed to something deep and wonderful.  In the baby God said, “I love you.  I love you so much that I am willing to come and live, and hunger, and thirst, I am willing to come and hurt and suffer, and yes even die, that you might know and received my love.”

Every time I read the Christmas story I am overwhelmed.  I am awestruck by the audacity of God.  To choose to immerse himself in the world.  The  infinite becoming finite.  Power taking on weakness.  Life taking on death.  To choose to reach out to us in this way.  To choose to be a baby in  cave, surrounded by the outcasts of the world.  Incredible.

God was born in a cave.  In the midst of the dirt and smells, the poverty and hurt of this world.  He came to be with and for the world.  He came as a real person, not be a person apart, but to be a person with.  He came to be with the ragged old men.  The addicted young mother.  The person suffering from hallucinations who mumbles to himself as he walks down the street.  The workaholic business person.  The harried mother.  The confused youth.  He came to be with and not apart.  To be with, in love!  In hope.

And still God  comes.  God still arrives in the midst of the hurt, the frustration and pain.  God is still with “with us”.  And God is still saying, “I love you!”

How?  Through the Spirit – of course.  But think about how God chooses to embody himself in this place and this time.  It’s the church.  The Immanuel Project is continued through gathered believers.  Through us.  For we are the body of Christ in this time and this place.  We are not the one’s through whom God puts flesh and bones on his love.  It is through us that God is present and active in the world.  It is through us that God loves and heals, helps and cares.  We are Project Immanuel, Part II.  Through us God is to be born and is to be offered to all the world.  To the attractive, and educated, to the alien and outcast alike.

To be with,  in the form of people who care, who heal, who help, in practical, down to earth ways
To be with, as people who offer help as a gift, not expecting anything  back
To be with, as people who are without judgment or condescension.

That is what it means to be part of the Immanuel Project
To be Christ’s people, the people of the child

I like the way civil rights leader Howard Thurman once put it.  “When the song of the angels is stilled. When the star of the sky is gone. When kings and princes are home. When the shepherds are back with their flocks. The work begins… to find the lost. To heal the broken. To feed the hungry. To rebuild the nations. To bring peace among people. To make music in the heart”

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