Thursday, 25 December 2008

God (in the Crucified-Risen Jesus) Is With Us

 There are many passages which can be cut from Scripture as epitomizing the good news of Jesus. Here is one from St Paul: "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Rom 8:31) That is, God is on our side, for us, with us. But if that sounds a little anti-climactic, it is only because we have been influenced by the gospel of Jesus in the first place. (Western culture's debt to Christianity is large indeed, and lives on still.) The news that God is on our side and never against us was good news, and very different news, in the time of the early church. Think of the Greek gods and their myths; at best inconsistent and untrustworthy, and at worst, immoral. The Christian gospel is quite simply this, that God is with us. But not 'with us' in some general sense or hypothetical 'spiritual' sense, but with us in the deepest and most intimate manner. God in Jesus takes on our flesh, real human flesh, made of stardust like the flesh on our bones, lives a complete life (from manger to sepulchre), is betrayed, tortured and suffers, eventually dying through public and humiliating execution on the cross. (God is with us!) And from the inside of the experience and knowledge of our humanity, Jesus is raised from the dead, to a new and transformed existence. (God is with us!)

In Matthew's account of the announcement to Mary of her pregnancy, she is told that the child within her is Immanuel, God with us. (Matt 1:18-25) And then, the very last sentence of the Gospel of Matthew, has the risen Jesus declare to his disciples, "I am with you always, to the end of the age." The Gospel is sandwiched between these two declarations of God's presence with us in Jesus Christ. And the content of this declaration is given to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Very real, very engaged with real human lives, in real human history, giving us a real human hope grounded in God.

The problem for most of us is that we live as though this is not true. Often we live as though God does not even exist, or we imagine God as a fatherly figure in the sky! God is as close to us as our own flesh. God knows what it is like to be one of us, with all that it entails. God knows what it is like to be betrayed, to be rejected, to suffer, to die. And to be raised again. In Jesus God comes to us as a real human to show that we too can be truly human. God comes to us and offers a basis for trust and hope, for courage and confidence in life and its end. God comes to us to take us where we cannot go by ourselves, into the very heart of God.

Now we are touching the true meaning of Christmas.

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