Sunday, December 23, 2018

Year C, Christmas Eve, Luke 2.1-20 Behold the Face of God

"Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
God had walked with Adam.  Walked in the Garden.  Together they had named every living thing.
God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone, and so caused a deep sleep to fall upon him, and then from his side he created a woman.
God taught them how to live.  What they could eat.  How they should act.
Yet though Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the Garden, the one thing they couldn’t do is simply obey.  They ate of the forbidden fruit, seeking to be wise.
And instead they became afraid.  Afraid to stand before God.  Afraid to walk with him.  Afraid to see his face once again. 
And so they hid themselves from the God who had created them, and who loved them. 
They had wanted to be like God, knowing the difference between good and evil, and what they discovered was fear. 
That God, long since hidden from human eyes, appeared again to Abraham.  Three strangers with a message.
"I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" 13 The Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old? ' 14 Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son." 15 But Sarah denied, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. He said, "Oh yes, you did laugh."
God came to Abraham and Sarah with a promise, and they laughed.
And then they were afraid, and denied the laughter.
Abraham would argue with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, and what would happen to Lot.
Lot was saved, but the cities were not.
And Abraham saw the destruction that the Lord had brought, and he was afraid.
In the wilderness Moses saw a bush, engulfed in flames, yet not consumed.  He turned aside to look at this great sight, and when he approached God spoke to him.
"Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." 5 Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 6 He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
God would lead the people out of slavery into Egypt, through the Red Sea, a pillar of cloud by day, and fire by night.
In the wilderness, God came down to the mountain.
When Moses had told the words of the people to the Lord, 10 the Lord said to Moses:"Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and prepare for the third day, because on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 You shall set limits for the people all around, saying, 'Be careful not to go up the mountain or to touch the edge of it. Any who touch the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch them, but they shall be stoned or shot with arrows; whether animal or human being, they shall not live. .  .
Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. .  .
Later Moses would beg the Lord, "Show me your glory, I pray." 19 And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, 'The Lord '; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But," he said, "you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live." 21 And the Lord continued, "See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen."
So it was with God and the Israelites.
He came to them, he led them, he gave them the Law, and the Land.
He was present with them in the pillar of smoke and fire.
In the Holy of Holies in the Temple, God was there.
There in the Temple many years later, Isaiah would see the Lord, and exclaim:
 "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"
From the Garden, to the Temple in Jerusalem, God was with his people, yet they were afraid.
Yet though the presence of the Lord brought great fear into their hearts, and they could not bear to look upon the face of God, there was one thing that remained beyond them.
No matter how great and awesome and powerful the presence of God was, the people could not remain faithful.
They feared God, yet could not obey him.
And so God, in his great goodness and mercy, decided to come to them once again.  Not in glory and might, but in weakness.
In Philippians Paul writes:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Within Mary’s womb, the Lord God who had created the universe became a single cell, and there grew into human likeness.
The Lord God, who had been all powerful, emptied himself of all that power.
The Lord God, who had led the people out of slavery, became himself, a slave.
The Lord God, who had demanded from the mountain that the people obey, became himself obedient even unto death, even death on a cross.
The Lord God, who had parted the Red Sea, was now carried in the womb to Bethlehem, and a stable.
“While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
It was there, in Bethlehem, as she nursed the baby at her breast, that in the faint light of a star lit night, Mary looked down and beheld the face of God.
God came to us, in Bethlehem, a babe.
Shepherds were watching their flocks that night.
 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Just a baby.
Yet the glory of God, shining brightly in the night, and they were terrified.
Once again.  Fear.
That wasn’t God’s intent.
As he laid there, a baby in Mary’s arms, fear was not his desire.
And so this time, God would himself hide, not his face, but his glory.
Jesus would grow into a young lad.
He would run and play and laugh.
Though he had created the universe, at Joseph’s side he would learn to create again, learning the carpenter’s trade.
When the time came, Jesus would speak, not from a smoking mountain with thunder and lightning, but gently and lovingly.
"Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
"Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
In the moonlit night of Bethlehem, Mary looked down and saw the face of God.
And then, three decades later, she would look up and see that face again, this time crowned with thorns and hanging from a cross.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Behold the face of God and hear the angels sing:
"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

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