The Greatest Gift of All: God's Presence

“For to you is born this day … a Savior”

And the angel said to the shepherds: “For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Now, here’s the heart of the Gospel, the very core of the Christmas message: “For to you …”

God does not come to us in the leisure distance of some text or phone call: “Hey, how ya’ doin?” Nor does God come to us with an inscribed card from some tropical island that reads: “Wish you were here” … or better yet, “Merry Christmas.” (What? Moving on …) Rather, God gives of God’s very self, to you, to me – we uncertain poor shepherds still out in the wiles of this early 21st century – tending our loneliness, our hurts, our needs, by night – and makes us his own – Emmanuel (“God with us”). God comes into the fear and loneliness of our little darkened rooms and says: “Don’t be afraid. I’m here with you, for you, for always …” (cf. Psalm 23:4). And what great “comfort and joy” is here! You’re not alone. I’m not alone. For God promises to always be with us. “And ALL the people were to be enrolled” (Luke 2:1).

Follow me on this … The baby Jesus couldn’t get into the Ramkota or Hilton, not even the HOLIDAY inn. “And there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7c). This allusion comes from the prophet, Jeremiah who says: “Who am I? am I just a traveler on this land who stays at an inn?” My friends, Jesus can’t get into an inn because he’s not some traveler. He’s going no where. He has to be born on earth because he’s not going to pack-up and leave. This is a permanent presence – “God deep in the flesh” (Martin Luther) – in person – con carne – for our human condition. There will be no walking out of the covenant. There will be no abandonment. This is not some tourist. This is one who’s born on earth.

The Christ Child cannot be born in an inn, because the only people who stay in inns are people who move out. They stay a night and then they leave. Rather … as we sing the beloved Christmas hymn, “What Child Is This?” … the refrain bears witness: “This, this is Christ the Lord …” who does not leave. And you have God’s personal Word on it – marked by the Cross and sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit. “This is my body given for you.”  “This is my blood shed for you” (cf. John 15:13). There’s an amazing physicality here. A presence of fleshy vulnerability, wrapped in swaddling cloths. As the medieval mystic, Oetinger would remind us: “Corporeality is the end of the ways of God” (see Paul Tillich’s, A History of Christian Thought, p.262).

I will always remember a university student sharing a very “touching” childhood remembrance with me – one that involved her traveling to Disneyland. As her family was driving on the return to her home state of Montana, her mother posed this question to her: “Honey, what part of the trip did you like the best?” Her unhesitating response: “That Daddy and you could be with me, the whole time.”

Friends and family: Listen. Listen. Personal, physical presence, is the very, very best gift that we can be given. By God for us. And by us for one another, in Jesus’ name. As the Dutch theologian, Eduard Schillebeeckx has observed: “People are the words by which God continues to tell his story of salvation” (Church, p.xiii). Don’t forget this truth; especially when you’re “out there” running around, frazzled, wondering what to buy a loved one for Christmas. Share the comforting word of Christ. Share something of your very presence. Such is the understanding that inspired the Psalmist to write: “In thy presence is fullness of joy!” (Psalm 16:11). Merry Christ-mass!

Dr. John Christopherson
Senior Pastor