No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
The Incarnation of Our Lord and His Resurrection to eternal life mark human history in a way no other events have or ever will. One of the two big events in human history has just happened. God Almighty has broken through space and time and come into the world. Be careful, because if you look around you may decide that it’s not a big event at all. You may come to the conclusion that it’s not as colossal and world-shaking of an event as it was supposed to be. Here we have had the Birth of the Son of God and the world pretty much looks the same. One would think that we should experience major differences in the lives of men and women. At least there ought to be major shifts in the Earth’s crust, or some enormous changes in weather, or some loud noises, something worthy of a press release. We look around outside and see none of that.
This is probably no different from the morning after the Birth of the Savior in Bethlehem two thousand twenty years ago. When Mary and Joseph looked outside the lowly stable, or cave, after Mary had given birth to God’s Son, the world pretty much looked the same. Shepherds had the dreadful episode with the multitude of angels and were directed to go and see the Child Jesus. Some were made aware of the birth because the shepherds ran to tell them what they had seen. Yet, all this was the night before, now the world looked the same. The daylight dawns, Joseph, Mary, and the Babe need to keep moving. Where is the dramatic difference?
Are we any different? After all of our preparations, and some of them frantic, for the great twelve-day celebration of Jesus’ birth, may now not notice much of a difference. The decorations are coming down. The trees are appearing on the sidewalks. It’s back to work or school, back to the routine, back to the way things were before what was supposed to be a huge event. Each year I try to preserve the wonderfully warm feelings and sentiments that come every Christmas. It is not possible. Christmas comes quickly and goes quickly and the surroundings go back to looking and feeling the same. Maybe that’s why there is this phenomenon of a kind of letdown or slight depression after big holidays. The surroundings just do not let us hold on to the enormity and indescribable excitement of the Lord’s birth.
This problem of not seeing a real difference after the Birth of the Savior is really the result of Christianity being a religion that has to be revealed. Believing in Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God, the Word made flesh, has to be shown to us and perpetuated for us because all the action begins and ends in God. To see it, to believe it, to act on the belief of the Word made flesh requires revelation to us by words and images. These are the best way for the Christian religion to come to us. They are the best way because they are the way chosen by God. God comes to us by the words and images of the Bible.
We know this quite naturally. Don’t we rely on pictures to show us events all the time? Pictures are so powerful and we know it. How many beautiful Christmas cards do we receive with family pictures taken over the past year? When they arrive at our homes we hustle to have them reveal what our families, friends, and loved ones look like now. Consider how frequently we take pictures and consider them a blessing. Especially now that picture taking, preserving, and sharing are so easy and expertly done with the sophisticated cameras on our mobile phones. Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright and director, first said A thousand words leave not the same deep impression as does a single deed. This was later paraphrased into A picture is worth a thousand words and the truth of the adage is strong when considering religion that is revealed.
We will not see nor remember the power of the Incarnation without the images of Scripture. We will only know what Saint John proclaims in the Gospel when he writes, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; John the Evangelist goes on, No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. God must be revealed or we are not going to know Him. We in fact do know Him, because He has been revealed by these images given to us by God. Artists, poets, and writers understand and grasp this principle of receiving and giving proper imagery to convey truth. C.S. Lewis, one of the most popular twentieth century Anglican writers, describes this necessity of using proper images to even understand the nature of God. In a collection of his essays he writes, ….we know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit. How do we even come close to knowing the all powerful, all knowing, ever-present God without the proper images? The images are important because they are the images chosen by God therefore they are inspired.
Think of just some of the images revealed to us by the Bible: Israel as a chosen nation and people; The suffering servant from the Prophet Isaiah as Christ Himself; Noah’s Ark as the Church; The Ark of the Covenant as a symbol of the Lord; The Church as the New Israel; The Church as the Bride of Christ and Christ as her husband; God the Father from the Lord’s Prayer; or one not from Scripture, but from our own liturgy, the Babe carried to the creche this past Christmas Eve. All these are images and symbols that convey to us the nature of God and how He loves us. These images are essential to helping us understand something of the Word of God. We will not know the difference in the world. We need the words and images of our religion from the Bible to learn, live and pass on our religion.
When the Gospel of John proclaims And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John bore witness to him and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’”) And from his fullness have we all received, grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. There it is. That is the difference. That is how things are not the same for those who believe. God reached out to the world by His Son in one of the greatest acts of love the world has ever known. He reached out to us so we could share in His life. He becomes part of humanity so we can have some part in His divinity even now. John Henry Cardinal Newman, one of the founding fathers of the catholic revival in Anglicanism, when describing how the Holy Ghost comes into our lives, writes…He pervades us (if it may be so said) as light pervades a building, or as a sweet perfume the folds of some houourable robe; so that, in Scripture language, we are said to be in Him and He in us. It is plain that such an inhabitation brings the Christian into a state altogether new and marvellous, far above the possession of mere gifts, exalts him inconceivably in the scale of beings and gives him a place and an office which he had not before. He has ‘power’, as Saint John says,’to become the son of God’. That’s how the world, the universe, our whole human state is different. To finish Cardinal Newman’s Scripture quote, but to all who receive him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; That’s how things are changed now. He came to us so we can get back to Him.
The world, the universe, is different and that is Good News for us and all mankind. The Good and Loving God who is all powerful, all knowing, and all present is with us and in us. We are able to have Him in our lives and we are able to share in His life. His powerful act of love in reaching out to us means that He is with us in every aspect of our lives. All the conditions in which we live will have the love of God in them. Are we battling loneliness? Is a friend or loved one close to spending the last days of life here on earth? Are we in a financial crisis from which there seems no end? Is there a health problem that is medically unmanageable and draining all resources for treatment? Jobs, neighbors, taxes, illnesses all try our patience and strain at our lives. The act of love that is the Incarnation allows us the privilege of having God in our lives no matter what.
Thank God for the perfect revelation He has provided in giving us the Christ Child. Let us find Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem, in our hearts and minds by all the ways He reveals Himself to us, and the lives of all faithful believers. We can now find Him and know Him and that makes all the difference.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.