What does God mean for me? Eventually it is a question that cannot be escaped. We can look around us and marvel at the beauty and ordered complexity of creation. It overwhelms us and leaves the impression that someone or something must be behind it. But that is as far as this “general revelation” can take you. A look at the world can tell you that there must be someone or something that was involved in its design and creation.
Yet this general revelation can tell us little more than this, and it certainly can’t tell us about the most important question: What does this “God” mean for me? And even if we were to determine that this “God” is well intentioned towards us, it still doesn’t answer the question: Where is God for me? One of my favorite professors at the seminary used to say: “A God is who everywhere, is no better than a God who is nowhere, if he isn’t somewhere for me.”
At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God. John tells about the Word, the Son of God: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). In the incarnation we receive the answer to both of the questions posed above.
During his ministry, Jesus said, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:13-15). The Son of God came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary in order to be lifted up on the cross. Later our Lord added, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). What does God mean for me? In the incarnation we learn that God loves us and has acted to save us.
This is amazing news – to learn that the almighty Creator of the cosmos loves us and has acted in this way to give us forgiveness and salvation. God is for me. But we still have not answered the second question: Where is God for me? You and I live at a place and a time. If we are to meet someone, we must always agree on these two designations in order for a rendezvous to occur.
We learn that the incarnation also provides the answer to this question. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is where God is for me. On Christmas Eve the angel told the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).
On Christmas Eve there was a very specific place where God was present for you – that place was Jesus Christ in the manger. The incarnate Son of God lived in our space and time in order to redeem us. He offered himself on the cross and rose from the dead on the third day in order to free us from sin and death.
We gather on Christmas Eve in order to celebrate Jesus’ birth. However, at that service you won’t find the incarnate Son of God as a baby in a manger. Indeed what is being celebrated on that evening is an event that occurred in the first century A.D. in Palestine. We don’t live there and then. Instead, we live here and now.
Yet the ascended Lord still deals with us as people who live at a place and a time. He leaves no doubt about where he is present for us. He has promised that he is present through the means of words – words of Scripture inspired by his Spirit and now read and proclaimed in our midst. He is present for us through water and the Word at the font of Holy Baptism. He is present for us through the pastor who speaks absolution in his place and stead. And he is present for us in the Sacrament of the Altar as he gives us his true body and blood in, with and under bread and wine. Christ has promised that where these Means of Grace are present, I receive the answer to these two essential questions: What does God mean for me? Where is God for me?