John 1:1-18; Deuteronomy 18:15-19
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
You and I suffer from a fundamental religious problem. We want God to deal with us in a way that would wind up destroying us. We think that it would be a great thing if we could see God in all His glory and hear Him speak to us. We say to ourselves, “if only God would come to me in some special and direct way. If only He would show Himself to Me and speak to me face to face. Then I could really trust in Him and lead a more faithful Christian life.” We think that coming into direct, unfiltered, unsheltered contact with God would be a wonderful experience for us.
The people of God standing at Mount Sinai, however, would strongly disagree. They came very nearly into direct contact with God, and they were freaked out. There was thunder and lightning and fire and smoke and an ear-piercing trumpet sound. They stayed at a distance from the mountain of God, and they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But let us not hear again the voice of the Lord our God, nor let us see this great fire anymore, lest we die.” When unholy people come into direct contact with the holy God, it’s like grabbing onto an uninsulated high voltage wire. The power is good, but unshielded it is deadly. Nothing unrighteous can stand exposed in God’s presence without being destroyed. And that includes you. It is proof of sinful human foolishness that we tend to think otherwise.
The Old Testament tells us several times that no one can see God and live. Even Moses, who was permitted safely to hear the voice of God, was only allowed to see the “back” of God on Mount Sinai, Scripture says. Anything more than that would have undone him. In a sense, then, God hides Himself from us for our good. For if we were to come into contact with Him directly in our current fallen condition, we would perish.
And yet it’s not good if God were to remain hidden from us forever. Ultimately, that’s what hell is: eternal, painful separation from God and all that is blessed and good. What we want, what we need is to stand in God’s glorious presence and experience the holy joy of communion with Him. How, then, do we come into contact with God in a saving and beneficial way?
The answer to our question comes to us at Christmas. It is as God said to Moses, “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth.” The people could handle a human presence and a human voice. And so the solution to our problem of how to come into contact with the holy God is the wonderfully human presence of the Child in the manger. For that infant boy in swaddling clothes is the fulfillment of the prophecy. He is the Lord–not God with thunder and lightning and fire and smoke, but God veiled in human flesh–Emmanuel, God with us, God who is one of us. This is not just the back of God that Moses saw, but the very image and face of God. In Jesus we are able to approach God without fear. For He has come down to our level. He’s not on a mountain; He’s in a manger. We don't need to climb up to Him. He has descended to where we are at. We aren’t overwhelmed and repelled and annihilated by His holiness and power; for He has wrapped His glory in a most inviting way, in the body and soul of a baby. There He is, the Lord of might, Creator of the universe, helpless in the arms of His mother. This He did for us, that we might be restored to Him. Jesus is God whom we can come into direct contact with and not die. If we seek God anywhere else, we will perish. But when we come into contact with Jesus, the Son of God in our flesh, just the opposite happens when we believe in Him: we live. His holiness doesn’t annihilate us, it cleanses us. Joined to Him by faith, trusting in His love for us, we enter into God’s very presence, where we experience not His anger and wrath, but His everlasting goodness and mercy.
Jesus is a Prophet like Moses, who speaks the Word of God. And yet He is of course much greater than Moses, for He is the Word of God, the Word made flesh. The words in His mouth come from the Father whose divine nature He shares in fully, since He is the very Son of God, of one substance with the Father, God of God, Light of Light. The reason that God and man can safely come together in Christ is because Jesus is both God and man unified and reconciled in one undivided person.
And Jesus is much greater than Moses also in this sense: the Law came through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. The Law of God that Moses revealed is good, but it can only take us so far, even as Moses could only take Israel so far, but not all the way to the Promised Land. In the end the Law condemns us. Only Joshua, Yeshua, only Jesus takes us to the Promised Land. For only He crossed the Jordan ahead of us and for us, passing through death into life in our flesh, that we may share in His life forever. Jesus reveals the truth of His name, “The Lord saves.” In Him is manifested the free grace of God, that the Father sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that world might be saved through Him.
So on this blessed Christmas Day, give thanks to God that He comes to you not in the way of Mt. Sinai but in the way of the manger. The Son of God hides Himself like this in order to reveal Himself in love and make Himself truly known to you. He veils Himself behind swaddling clothes and the shame of the cross in order that you may see Him by faith and perceive His great love for you. He veils His voice of power and thunder behind the still small voice of the Scriptures and the preaching of the Gospel, so that you may hear Him without fear. He conceals and covers Himself in your flesh and blood so that you may come into contact with Him and not be destroyed but purified and redeemed by His mighty power.
The Word is still made flesh quite literally for you here, mangered in the bread and wine. As the shepherds knelt before Jesus and worshiped God truly present in the flesh, so you are given to do the very same at this altar. That is the true way to celebrate Christmas, by partaking of the Christ mass, the true body and blood of Christ given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. Receive Him who comes to you in this humble and lowly way; gladly welcome the Christ-child and hold onto His free gifts of mercy and life. For the Lord Jesus conceals Himself like this for you now, so that when He reveals Himself on the Last Day, you will not be destroyed; rather, you will be delivered into the most beautiful and awesome glory of His presence and will share in perfect communion with Him who is in the bosom of the Father.
Look to Jesus, and see God, and live. Merry Christmas!
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠