God being with us is normal

I can understand people thinking the story of Jesus Christ is a myth. It’s phenomenal to believe that the world’s Creator takes a human body and lives among us. But that’s what Christians believe. One of the names Jesus is called is ‘Immanuel’ (Matthew 1:22-23). It simply means ‘God with us’.

The real question is not how such a thing can happen but whether it is something we should expect to happen. And a related question is whether we want it to happen.

In fact, God has always wanted to be among us. In our earliest human story, creation is described as God’s garden, and he comes seeking Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening (Genesis 3:8).

Then, God tells ancient Israel to build a tent for him and pitch it in the centre of their camp (Numbers 2:2, 17). He wants to go with them as they travel (Exodus 29:43-46), and to live among them when they settle. They know he is there and where they can find him (Psalm 122).

God has spent a long time teaching the world that he wants to be among us—to give us leadership, protection and certainty. And when his Son is born in Bethlehem, John tells us that the Word (who is God) takes on our flesh and ‘camps’ among us (John 1:14).

If your world doesn’t include God, this sounds foolish. But if you look at what God has been saying to us from early times, this is what you would expect to happen.

Among Christians, the coming of Jesus is great news. But the first Christmas is not all peace and joy. God coming among us raises questions, fears, and sometimes, hatred.

It’s the same now. The announcement that God has come to live among us is met with disbelief or distain. At best, it’s regarded as a nice myth to inspire or comfort us.

We need to look at what actually happens when God sends his Son among—us a baby. It helps us understand what’s going on in our own communities.

First, look what happens to Mary (Luke 1:26-38).

An angel arrives. He says God has come to show her great favour. But she is agitated—well beyond her comfort zone.

But she doesn’t need to be afraid. She will have a baby who will be Israel’s King, the world’s Saviour—nothing less than God’s Son.

She’s not married yet, but God says her baby will be a miracle. ‘… the power of the Most Hight will overshadow you’. No-one can work out how this happens. It’s not natural.

But this is what it’s like for God to be near. We’re not in charge! But then, we’re not being condemned either. And we’re not being set up to perform wonders of our own. God is not someone to compete with. But he is someone to co-operate with.

Mary’s reply gives us all something to say when God draws near. ‘May it be so to me as you have said’.

The world isn’t just nature—or things happening naturally. We have a Creator. He’s around! From the beginning, God has been revealing that him being near is normal. We should get used to it! It needs to be our new normal.

Second, see what some shepherds experience (Luke 2:8-14).

There’s no mistaking that an angel makes a night visit to some shepherds, and that his message is from God. He’s literally shining. The shepherds are terrified.

The way to deal with God being near is not to domesticate him but to listen to what he has to say. There’ll always be something unmanageable about this.

Here’s the message. The King that Israel has been taught to expect—their Messiah—has been born in their own town. This is good news for everyone. They get the details of where to find the baby.

Then there’s lots of noise. Many angels worship God and announce the peace God is bringing to those who share with Mary in receiving his favour.

This is what it means for God to be near. We can’t understand the logistics but we need the message. He’s announcing peace with himself, and the resources to be at peace with others.

It will never be us that makes this peace. It needs to be him—present and in charge.

Third, notice how agitated it makes King Herod. From his point of view, Jesus’ birth is a political event. He’s a rival (Matthew 2:1-18).

 ‘Wise men’ from East of Israel find out—somehow—that a Jewish King has been born. They call, understandably, at the palace, asking to see the new King.

Jesus can’t be hidden. He is world news. He attracts attention, and antagonism. Pilate does some research, gives directions to the visitors, and, deceptively, asks them to let him know what they find. He’s not interested in worship. He’s interested in cancelling Jesus.

Herod illustrates that taking authority to ourselves—as though God were not around—is dangerous.

Herod murders all Bethlehem’s children under two years of age. He needs to protect his tenuous kingdom—the peace he is trying to create by having people under his authority. This is the price the world pays for rejecting God coming to be among us.

So, here’s the new normal.

God has come among us—as a human being. He’s announced his way of peace with us. His way of going about this is not natural, or what we would do.

It’s not even what we like. We want God to leave us alone. And when we finally get an opportunity to do what we want with God, we kill him.

But then, Jesus reveals God—fully. While he is dying, he asks his Father to forgive those who are killing him (Luke 23:34).

The God who has come among us as a baby is still a human being—God, with human flesh. Except, now, raised from the dead, he’s been seated next to his Father, to superintend the peace he established.

This is certainly not natural. But it is God’s normal. And he is asking us to join him in the peace he makes. So, happy Christmas to you all. Just don’t expect it to be natural.