Second Sunday after Christmas

Text: John 1:10-18

‘God’s Glory’

allanb

There was once a gentleman who would drop into a church office asking questions about God and faith. The people who worked for the congregation didn’t know whether this gentleman was honestly searching for answers to his questions, or whether he was just looking to have a religious argument with someone. Whatever his reason might have been, his questions were good and challenged the people in the office to search for a deeper understanding of God and the way he is at work in the world.

One question this gentleman asked was one that has perplexed humanity for thousands of years: if God is all-good, all-loving and all-powerful, then why are children and other innocents dying everyday all around the world from war, hunger, abuse, preventable diseases, and other evils? The thinking behind his question was that if God is actually all-good, all-loving and all-powerful, then he would somehow eradicate evil so that everyone, especially the innocent victims of human hatred and greed, could live safe, happy, lives that are free of suffering.

We can understand this gentleman’s struggle with the paradox of God’s love and power because we can see it playing out in a wide range of different circumstances, from personal struggles to global issues of justice and peace. The problem with simply getting rid of evil is that, if God were to do that, God would also need to get rid of human will which is often the cause of the evils in the world. We would end up with a God who controls people instead of a God who gifts people with freedom. People who have no will are people who are unable to love, and if God’s desire is that we live in loving relationships with him and with others, as we hear Jesus teach in passages such as Matthew 22:34-40, then taking away our will also means taking away our capacity to love. In fact, because we are all sinful in our natural condition, and the wages of that sin is death—God would have to get rid of everyone.

Rather than do that, God deals with the problem of evil in a different way. Instead of magically getting rid of suffering in the world, God shows us his glory by doing something that we don’t expect and that no-one else could do.

We would expect God to display might and power and obliterate evil. Instead, God comes hidden in the vulnerability of the manger and the cross. He empties himself of all His heavenly glory and experiences all our vulnerabilities (at his birth, in his ministry and in his suffering, torture, shame and even death).

This is God hidden from the proud and self-reliant who makes himself known through humility to those who trust in him.

That God should do the unthinkable coming to as a child in a manger, go to the Cross and die for the sin of the world is the only way we know that God does care. It’s the only way we know that he rolls his sleeves up and gets his hands dirty. That he should be become one of us and for us. This is not a ‘pie in the sky’ God of our own imagining. This is God that surpasses all human understanding.

So, God enters into the suffering of the world as an infant. In Jesus, God joins us in our suffering, meet us in our pain and confusion, and then gives us the hope of something better.

This might sound a bit too depressing or philosophical for a message during the Christmas season. We expect and look for Christmas to be light and happy most of the time. If we just want to have a good time at this time of year, then we miss the real significance and power of the Christmas story. Jesus wasn’t born in a sanitized, air-conditioned birthing suite at a hospital. He came into a broken world still tearing itself apart, a world captive to sin and blinded by it, a world paralysed by selfishness so much that some people stop at nothing to get their own way—even the murder of innocent people. Jesus came into a world such as this. He was born in a dirty, smelly, unhygienic cattle shed. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth were shameful in their culture as his mother became pregnant before she was married to her fiancé. At the time, the people among whom Jesus was born were living under the oppression of the Roman Empire which maintained control through brutal and oppressive violence. We can sanitize the Christmas story so much that we forget that God entered the world in a humble way, immersed in shame, and into the suffering of an occupied and oppressed people. The Christmas story is really a story of shame, dirt, and conflict.

We see God’s glory in the story of Jesus’ birth because when we are suffering from shame, dirt or conflict, God is with us through the birth of Jesus to give us hope and peace, love and even a deep sense of lasting joy. Jesus shows us the glory of God who isn’t removed or distant from the realities of our lives. He is right here with us, walking with us every step of the way, because he has been there before us in the person of Jesus. God doesn’t just leave us there either. In Jesus, God promises us a life that is free from shame, in which we are made clean through his forgiveness and healing, and is free from the oppression of sin, death and all the evils of this world.

When that gentleman went into the office and asked where God was when the innocents are suffering and dying, the Christians in that church could tell him that God was right there with them in the person of Jesus. This is not an empty platitude to try to win a philosophical argument, but the glory of God at work in the world. In Jesus, God shows us his power by joining with everyone who suffers, including us. God surrenders his power to meet us in the middle of the circumstances of our lives, and then gives us the hope of a better life in this world and in the next. We see the love of God in Jesus as he sacrifices everything – his heavenly glory as well as his own life on the cross – to suffer at the hands of evil in order to free us from the power of evil. We encounter the glory of God in Jesus who meets us where we are, journeys with us to carry our shame, dirt and conflict for us, who sets us free from their control, and gives us life that never ends.

Where is God when the world, or when we, are hurting? Through the birth of Jesus, God is right there with us.

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