English Service on December 21 Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison Title:“Made in Human Form” Scripture:Philippians 2:6-11
Today’s reading tells us the Christmas story of God’s own Son, coming to our world as a human. John 1:14 describes the same event this way:
The Word became a human being. He made his home with us. We have seen his glory. It is the glory of the one and only Son. He came from the Father. And he was full of grace and truth.
Philippians 2:6-11 is another of the key sections in the whole Bible that tell us who Christ was. It makes it clear that, from a quite early stage, Christians understood Jesus to be the Son of God. Many Bible scholars think these verses are a quotation. Paul seems to be quoting a poem or hymn or confession. The style is one of Greek poetry (in the links between the words, the rhythm, etc.). In it, Jesus is praised as God. You can sometimes hear people say that Jesus was not God, that He never claimed to be, that His followers just slowly developed that idea over a number of generations after His death. But Paul wrote his letters within 20 years of the death of Christ, it is pretty clear. This makes it very difficult to accept the idea that the early church dreamed up the teaching of Jesus’ being God. The quote Paul is making has probably been there for some time, and the clear claim that Christ is God was there from a very early stage. People who met Him really believed that.
Of all that it means to say Jesus was the Son of God, let’s focus on one key thing. As one person of the Trinity, equal with God, Christ shows us that God exists in relationship. Being joined to others is at the heart of who God is. What does God do? Creating and protecting and rebuilding and bringing to fullness relationships is what we see God in the Bible doing more than anything else. That is where many people misunderstand Him and the Christian faith on a basic level. Even some of us growing up in Christian families somehow get the idea that the main point is being a good person, following the rules in the Bible and working hard to do good things so God will love you and you can go to heaven. In reality, that is far from the message at the heart of Christian faith. It’s much more a message like this: God loves His children. God rescues His children. Again, to Him, it’s all about relationships.
The theologian Augustine focuses on the relational nature of God in his writings. Many religions have a god who exists alone. But the God of the Bible is unique among them in that, as the Trinity, God’s essential way of living is in fellowship. Augustine says that that means something important about God’s creating you and me. God did not make us just because He was lonely, in other words to meet His own needs, to complete something in Himself that was incomplete. God’s reason for existing is not just to make us happy or forgive our sin or anything limited to us. He could be just fine without us. In fact, a god who had to have relationships with people would be showing that he/she/it was not perfect, not almighty, not God, Augustine said. The Bible’s God already had a perfect relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He created us not because something was lacking in Him but because His nature is love and living in relationship with others is how He naturally expresses Himself.
When I was a boy, our family had a St. Bernard named Bozo. We had a lot of fun together. He especially loved the snow and would get excited and run through it to retrieve a ball I had thrown. He liked special things like that, but most of the time he just wanted to be together, walking where I walked, watching while I worked in the garage, or whatever. I think he was a good example of the way God is and wants us to be. It didn’t matter so much what my dog and I were doing or how much of it we did or how well we did it. The main point was to do it together. Our Father in heaven also makes relationships a priority, and He wants us to do the same.
If you read through the whole Bible, you can see that all its major themes link up with God’s commitment to healthy, strong, loving relationships. We’ve already started to see how God’s purpose in creation was relationships with us as His people. He made a place for us to live by putting us in a natural world where 7 x 1024 stars exist. Each human body has about 37,000,000,000,000 cells in it. That’s an amazing place to be. But God did not do that just to make a cool house for us to live in. He did it to give us a home for Himself and us to share.
When we move to the teaching about the Law, we see God teaching His people how to live in peace with Him, each other, and the natural world. In all the rules about ceremonial worship, for instance, He is telling us how we can come to live in His presence in a deep and fulfilling way. The warnings about His judgment, His punishment of sin, are there to hold us close to Him and keep us aware of the terrible price of living outside of close fellowship with Him. In teachings about God’s covenant, we see Him choosing people to live in His family, to know Him as a loving Heavenly Father. In many examples of God’s providing for His people, He makes it plain that we can count on Him to meet our needs. When His people refuse to live as He teaches and so invite His judgment, instead of giving up on us, He gives us prophecies of the Messiah. They help us live in hope that even our worst choices and biggest mistakes are not the end of the story if God will send us a Savior.
Then in the Christmas event, the birth of Immanuel (“God with us”), we see God coming to our world to be with us. He expresses His love for us in dramatic fashion by becoming one of us. He continues and completes that work of love on the cross as Christ pays the price of our sins and makes a way for us to be saved, made right with our Father again. God does not only save us from our sin. He also saves us into a relationship with Him. In Jesus’ return from death, return to heaven, and sending the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of believers, God shows us that He still is present not only in heaven but here and now with us. Finally, in the teachings on the end times and heaven, he shows us the depth and power of His saving love for us—one that will never end.
In other words, in creation, the Law, covenant, providence, prophecy, the incarnation, redemption, salvation, eschatology, and all the other big-word, complicated theological terms, there is one simple message that runs throughout them all. God loves you and me and all people very deeply. He made a way for us to live with Him as His children, now and always. With His help, we can learn to live by the power of His love as we trust Him to guide us each day. Again, it’s all about relationship. As one teacher put it, to God, “Relationship is the goal. Salvation is the means. Eternity is the scope” (Walton). Relationship is what God has always wanted. Let’s make a deeper relationship with Him our priority and deepest desire, too.
An American mother was walking with her small boy. The child tripped, fell down, and started crying. The mother stood beside him, waiting, then said, “You’re OK. You just fell down. Come on, stand up. You’ll be fine.” After a long time crying, the boy stood up. He was becoming independent, but he wasn’t very happy.
A Japanese mother was walking with her small boy. The child tripped, fell down, and started crying. The mother quickly went to him, picked him up, and held him until he stopped crying. He was happy then but later had trouble learning to handle life’s problems with independence and strength.
An African mother was walking with her small boy. The child tripped, fell down, and started crying. This mother got down on the ground with him and made crying sounds with him. When he saw that—Mama lying on the ground crying—he was so surprised that his tears stopped. After a while with him like that, the mother stood up. When he saw that she was OK and she could stand up, he thought for a moment and then did the same. He grew up knowing the love of a mother who went through hard times with him and helped him be strong.
Of course that story is too simple. There are many different kinds of mothers in every country, and it’s not so clear what children will learn from one experience. But that African mother is a picture of the way God has been toward us. In being born as a human, living through times of real pain and loss, then dying on the cross, Jesus came down to where we are. He entered our suffering with us. But He did not just stay there. By rising from death and making a way for us to join Him in that, He gave us hope and strength. It can help us greatly as we continue our journey from day to day.
So that’s the good news of Christmas. It’s all about Christ and His invitation to you and me to live in a loving, saving relationship with God through Him. Jesus is the greatest Christmas present. So let’s ask God to help us make today the starting point of a life-long journey to a deeper, fuller, and richer life with Him and His people.
God of love, thank you for caring enough about us to send your Son into our world to save us when we could not save ourselves. Help us not to leave that gift under the Christmas tree unopened but to accept it, to welcome Christ into our hearts and lives as Savior and follow Him each day as our Lord and King. In His name we pray, amen.
Keller, T. (July 2, 1995). “Imitating the Incarnation.” Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Retrieved November 7, 2014 from http://sermons2.redeemer. com/sermons/imitating-incarnation
Mitsuhashi, E. (December 19, 2014). Hokusei Gakuen University Christmas Worship.
Walton, J. (November 10, 2014). “Creation As Order Emanating from God.” Reflecting on Haydn’s The Creation. Retrieved December 12, 2014 from http://www.wheaton.edu/WETN/All-Media/Chapel/Undergra duate