The Birth of God: How and Why? (Luke 1:26-38)
Rev. Peter Heckert
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation tonight comes from our Gospel text, especially where Luke records Gabriel’s words to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …
Imagine yourself talking over the fence with your next-door neighbor, someone who you know well, who you care greatly for, a great neighbor … who knows absolutely nothing about the Christian faith. How would you describe God to that person? You know, the God we trust with our lives and eternal destinies, the God whom we believe, teach, and confess, whom we worship and serve, and with whom we have daily conversations through prayer. How would you describe Him?
Omnipotent? Omniscient? Omnipresent? Triune? Well, those are all true, but maybe they’re a little heavy on the “Christian-ese.” Maybe we should think of more accessible characteristics of the Almighty. What about awesome—not like Bill and Ted in their excellent adventures, but more awe-inspiring? How about glorious? Eternal? See how difficult this is? So try again … and then give up trying to describe or explain God. The might and majesty of almighty God are infinitely beyond our ability to comprehend … which is actually a good thing! I’m gladdened by the fact that I can’t fit my God into some little box of my own understanding, that there’s a whole truckload of stuff that I’d like to know about God, but never will on this side of eternity.
While we have plenty of words to describe God, we can never explain Him. We can only marvel that this God is the Creator of all that is—of light out of darkness, of the seas and stars and mountains and plains, of animals and plants and birds and fish, man and woman. Out of nothing, no less! Ex nihilo! All that we see and touch and smell and hear that’s good—God made it, from scratch. Amazing!
But of course, that raises some questions for us as Christians. It’s one thing to believe in an immovable Mover, One who created all this … and then maybe stood back to let creation fend for itself, a divine Clockmaker, if you will … it’s another thing entirely to confess that this same God, who created all things … actually cares about His creation. That He’s actively involved in what happens in this reality that He spoke into existence. And that stretches further when you consider that this same God … stepped into His creation by becoming one of us. That’s the context of today’s hard question that hardly anybody is asking: How can God—this God who is infinitely beyond all description or explanation or comprehension—how can He take on human flesh . . . and better question, why would He do it?
We’ll start with the “how” of this question. John, using the same words to begin his Gospel as did the writer of Genesis, wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and the Word created life and light and the totality of creation: and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, … full of grace and truth.”
How? You know the story as well as I do, and it’s just as much mystery and miracle as all that has just been said. It’s the story we just heard in our Gospel text, the story of a teenaged girl named Mary, chosen to be the theotokos, the “God-bearer,” the human mother of this holy God, conceived in her by the Holy Spirit and taking on human flesh. And in a stable in the royal city of Bethlehem, quietly and with a faithful man named Joseph looking on, God was born, and his name was Jesus. How? Mystery and miracle.
That covers the “how” God took on human flesh, but … why? Why did He clothe Himself in our frail, broken nature? Well, the baby’s very name answers that question. “Jesus” is a form of the same name as Joshua, both of which mean “savior.” The first man and woman, made in God’s image, fell from holiness, but not from grace. The same can be said of every created human being since that first free fall into sin. Creation would never be the same; sin is powerful and sin is deadly and sin wreaks havoc upon all people, especially when it comes to sin’s fruition, death. The world needed a Savior. But the qualifications were steep: the Savior had to be someone who was still holy, without sin. However, the Savior also had to be someone who would be able to endure the consequences of sin—pain and suffering and death—and then snuff out its power through the new life of resurrection.
Why did God take on human flesh? Because He loves us enough to say, “I’ll never give up on them. I’ll never leave them. I, the Father, will send them my only Son, to be born among them and to live among them and to save them from the curse of their sins.”
That’s what we see, on that night we call Christmas. That is “When Heaven Met Earth.”
+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.