We have a very special God, different than the gods of all other religions, in that He chose to come and be with us, and remains with us in our hearts as the Holy Spirit all our days that we are in relationship with Him. God chose to set aside the glories of heaven for the love of us.
Links to scriptures here.
We hear lots of stories as Christmas approaches about the enormous lengths that people go to in order to be home for Christmas. We hear the song “I’ll be Home for Christmas” on the radio. We anxiously watch the weather as our travel days approach and pray for good traveling weather. We may watch Flight Aware to see if our family will make their connections. We watch the news of soldiers who are blessed with leave time to be home with their families. And we watch with tears of joy as we see children hugging Mom or Dad who they haven’t see for months during deployment. These scenes are so heart-warming, and remind us how much our relationships with our dear ones mean to us. Why? Because we love our family and friends.
God has that kind of a relationship with us as well. He loves us! From the beginning of time, he longed to come in human form and be with us. As Matthew 1:23 quotes the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). We have a very special God, different than the gods of all other religions, in that He chose to come and be with us, and remains with us in our hearts as the Holy Spirit all our days that we are in relationship with Him. God chose to set aside the glories of heaven for the love of us! And when the angels sang in Bethlehem, it wasn’t just about Jesus, a baby, coming to be born in a manger. Luke 2:13 says the angels were praising God saying: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14) They were heralding not just the coming of a baby, but the coming of God himself, in human form yet fully God. Picture all the pomp and circumstance with one of our earthly monarchs: trumpets blaring, Crowns and jewels, special horse-drawn carriages, lights shining, people massed and cheering. And yet, all that human show pales in comparison to the praise for our God when He stepped down from heaven to be with us.
Why did God step down from heaven to be with us?
Well, first of all because He loves us and wants to rescue us from ourselves, from our sin. John 3:16 reminds us that: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And the reason, in His great love, that He needed to come was because we had a sin problem. As soon as Adam and Eve ate that apple in the garden of Eden, as soon as they decided that were smarter than God and wanted to disobey Him, ever since then, the human race has had a sin problem. Our lives are characterized by sin and wanting to do the wrong, evil thing. And this creates a rift in our relationship with God. Because God is pure and holy, and we recognize that we are not pure and holy. He is the one who lays our sin bare. Yet, he still wants to have relationship with us because He loves us with an everlasting love. So, from the beginning of time, God knew what was going to happen. It’s not like Jesus was God’s plan B. It’s not like God didn’t know that Adam and Eve were going to fail the test in the garden. God knew and had a plan from the beginning. John 1:1 talks about Jesus, who is the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” And later in verse 14 “14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The picture that Margot showed us in the Children’s message is very poignant. As we look at it again, we see Eve and pregnant Mary looking at one another. The one who caused the downfall, is facing the one who is going to birth the God/Man who broke the power of sin in our lives. One of the subtle things in this picture is the serpent at the bottom of the painting. Note that he is tangling around Eve’s legs. Eve was entrapped and entangled by the serpent. But Mary has her foot on the serpent’s head in victory over him. This symbolizes the fulfillment of a prophecy which God spoke in the garden as He cursed the serpent in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” It was Mary’s son, Jesus, God/Man, the Word become flesh, who defeated Satan, the serpent, to win the victory over sin and death. As fully human and yet fully God, He could live a sinless life, be crucified, die, be buried, and rise again. And His resurrection power releases us from sin and death, and sets us free to live Godly lives. So we see that God had this outrageous plan from the beginning that He would come into the world to be God with us, Immanuel.
How did God step down from Heaven to be with us?
Philippians 2 gives us a great picture of how much God sacrificed to step down from heaven to earth. Philippians 2:5-8 says: 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. We see three things in this passage:
- Jesus thinks of others not himself. Jesus was the ultimate unselfish person. He thought about us, not about himself. It says He was “in the form of God.” What does that mean? God doesn’t have shape or form because He is Spirit, so it must mean something else. This use of the word “form” means the outward expression of the inward nature. This means that Jesus was God. In fact, he was equal with God. As God, Jesus didn’t need anything. He already had all the glory and praise of heaven. With the Father and the Holy Spirit, He reigned over the universe. But He did not consider this equality with God something to cling to when his beloved children were in trouble. He thought of US rather than himself when He came to rescue us.
- Jesus serves. But thinking of others first in an abstract sense alone is insufficient. Jesus thought of us and became a servant, our Paul traces Jesus’ steps of humiliation here. First, Jesus emptied himself, laying aside the independent use of his own attributes as God. Second, He permanently became human, in a sinless physical body. Third, He used that body to be a servant. Fourth, He took that body to the cross and willingly died for us.
- Jesus sacrifices. Many people are willing to serve others if it does not cost them anything. But if there is a price to pay, they suddenly lose interest. Jesus became obedient “to the point of death, even death on a cross.” His was not the death of a martyr but the death of a Savior. He willingly laid down His life for the sins of the world. He willingly paid our penalty through His sacrifice.
When did God step down from heaven to be with us?
Galatians 4:4-7 tells us: 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
I find this an amazing thing. God’s choice of timing in the birth of Jesus was “in the fullness of time.” I am comforted to know that God’s choice of timing was not a random choice, but a well-planned event in the overall scope of his plan for saving us. Not too early, not too late. How often do we wonder about God’s timing? Wonder why prayers are not answered, or we think the answer comes too late to be useful. We can rest assured that God is never early or never late, and His promises never fail. In the same way, the arrival of Jesus on earth in human form, in exactly the right time, place and way was in every detail a part of God’s perfect plan.
God stepped down from heaven and is still with us today.
It is so easy to view the birth of Jesus in isolation from the rest of the Gospel. Because our Christmas Holiday has become so commercialized and politicized, it is sometimes hard to remember that this is only a part of the story. It doesn’t end after the wise men leave. God stepped down from heaven to be with us, and he is still with us today. He will always be Immanuel, God with Us. While He was with us in bodily form during his years on earth, when he was getting ready for his death, resurrection, and ascension, he said some key things about his continued presence with us:
In John 14:23 Jesus says: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. It’s clear that as believers, Jesus and God make their home with us. Isn’t that exciting to realize their presence in us and in our homes?
In Matthew 28:20, right after giving the Great Commission, Jesus says: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” How comforting to know that He did not and will not leave us.
In Galatians 2:20 Paul says: 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. So we see again that Christ lives in us, as well as affirming that Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf was motivated by love for us.
But Jesus made a promise about his abiding presence with us that we cannot overlook, that of the continuing and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says in John 14:16: 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever. We can be assured that the Holy Spirit abides with us, guiding, directing, convicting, comforting and empowering us. We will never be without Him.
As we look at the Christmas story, and the wonder of God stepping down in humility to become a baby, we can’t forget about the end of the story. Not only did God come to earth to live amongst us for a short while in the flesh to sacrifice for our salvation. He also continues to live amongst us in our hearts and through the continuing presence of his Holy Spirit in our lives. He is Immanuel, God with us.
Max Lucado in his book Cosmic Christmas recounts the Christmas story from the perspective of the angels. The angel Gabriel describes the contingent of angels sent to Bethlehem to Mary to attend the birth of God as a baby. Gabriel reflects these words at the end of the book as he and the other angels kneel before the baby in the manger:
So this is He. So this is God’s gift. A Savior. He shall save His people from their sins. “Worthy is the Lamb,” I whispered, as I knelt before my God. My heart was full. I turned to Mary as she cradled her child and I spoke. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t hear me. The stars could. All of nature could. And most of all, my King could.
Do you know who you hold, Mary? You secure the Author of grace. He who is ageless is now moments old. He who is limitless is now suckling your milk. He who strides upon the stars, now has legs too weak to walk; the hands which held the oceans are now an infant’s fist. To Him who has never asked a question, you will teach the name of the wind. The Source of language will learn words from you. He who has never stumbled, you will carry. He who has never hungered, you will feed. The King of Creation is in your arms.
“What manner of love is this?” Michael whispered, and again we were covered in silence. A blanket of awe. Finally, Michael again opened his mouth, this time to sing. He began quietly, pausing between the words.
Glory to God in the highest.
One by one we joined. “Glory,
Glory to God in the highest.”
Gradually the chorus grew louder and faster: “Glory to God in the highest. Glory to God in the highest. Glory to God in the highest.”
Our praise rose into the realms of the universe. In the most distant galaxy, the dust on the oldest star danced with our praise. In the depths of the ocean, the water rippled with adoration. The tiniest microbe turned, the mightiest constellation spun, all of nature joined with us as we worshiped Immanuel, the God who had become flesh.