Sunday, December 25, 2011

God Speaking: Interactive

Preached on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2011

Scripture Reading: Exodus 40:34-38; John 1:14

For years and years, when I was a kid, my family would take a camping trip during the summer and stay for a week or two somewhere in the Sierra Nevada, or in the Coastal Range, or in the southern bottom of the Cascades. We always camped in a tent. We always “tented”.

Once in a while, we kids would ask our parents to get a camper, usually when it was raining. My dad always said that it wasn’t really camping unless you stayed in a tent.

A tent definitely made you much more than an observer of nature. A tent made you a participant in the rain, in the early sun shining through the canvas, in the wind rippling the cloth. A nearby rushing river rushed its song through the flaps.

The tent changed your relationship with the other families who were camping around your. Noises carried from their tent to yours even when yours was pitched more than a hundred feet away. The grove of trees where you were all camping was a single house divided by walls of cloth.

John, in his gospel, writes that, “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 1:14)

The Greek word for “dwelt among us” is a camping word, and it carries the thought that the Word became flesh “and tented among us”. He uses the “tent” word from the Exodus, when the people of God built a meeting place for God in the form of a tent.

The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is God in the act of pitching his tent with us. We are not observers but participants with God.

God is interactive. God doesn’t merely see us. He shares our campsite with us. We know him as the one who can hear us breathing; reading our thoughts not from a cloud, but as though God were watching through the eyes of your husband or wife, or friend, or child, or parent.

If we want, we can think of God as a stranger, someone people only talk about. But God refuses to respect that kind of thinking. John tells us that it is the nature of God not to let that happen. He is the kind of God who pitches his tent too close to yours and spoils the privacy of your campsite.

Two people in a room can be strangers even when they have known each other for years. We can live with God like that. We can think of God as the other person in the room that we do not acknowledge and we do not want to look at, as if we were a little child trying to sneak a forbidden cookie when our mother is sitting at the table behind us. But God will not get up and walk out of the room just because we want to think of him that way.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, can mean that God is like the one person whom you have allowed to know every nook and crevasse of your being. God is like the one who is scary because you know he will feel and know your pain more than you may want anyone else in the world to feel it and know it.

When John tells us that “the Word became flesh” he means, by “flesh”, the essence of human life. He has pitched his tent in what you are, no matter what that means.

“Flesh” can mean the part of life that is like a tent in the sense that it wears out faster than any other kind of house. It is the part of life that gets tired, that gets old; that gets sick; that doesn’t shelter you when you need shelter the most.

“Flesh” can be the part of life we mean when we say, “I am only human.” It is the part of life we would, sometimes, like to forget, or deny, or justify on the basis of very poor logic. It is what we are when we say, “This is who I am and you can’t do anything about it; and neither can I.”

“Flesh” is everything we say and do that makes life hard for others, and for ourselves. Jesus pitches his tent there and lends a hand where our “being human” needs a hand.

But he does more, because he carries the wounds of being “only human”, and he carries the sins of being “only human”. He grew up to carry them on the cross so that we could journey with him, and know him as the bearer of our sins.

“Flesh” can mean the part of life we are thinking of when we say that “life is difficult”. One of the most difficult Christmases of all time was the very first Christmas. It happened when the holy family was uprooted from their home in Nazareth by a decree of the Roman emperor.

They tried to find a place to stay, where their baby could be born, in Bethlehem. They didn’t find a very good place. Even in the ancient world it was a shame for a baby to have to lie in a manger, in a stable. God came in Jesus and pitched his tent with them there; and with us in the places where Christmas was hardest.

God, in Jesus, is with you in your loves, and struggles, and play, and work, and family, and when you are alone. God is not the spot in the corner of your bedroom where you look when you pray at night. God is not the spot on the horizon you look at when you drive across open country. God is there beside you, as well as in your heart.

But this is a good thing. God has done this for us. God has pitched his tent with us, in Jesus, for the sake of a loving intimacy, and inescapable intimacy. It is a good thing not to be able to get away from someone who loves you. God is a parent holding their child close.

However you feel at this stage in your life, God is holding you in your sorrows, fears, achievements, and joys. Christmas means the Lord has come tenting with you, and God is there not to be an observer, but to be a participant. God is always interactive.

The Old Testament people of God had a tent in the wilderness where they could meet with God. We have just such a tent. It is pitched right beside us. It is a tent made of flesh; your flesh and mine. It is both a human tent and the place where God waits to meet us. The name of this tent is Jesus.


  1. Hi, Pastor.
    O missed you!
    Yes...God is close to us, even when we do not realize that!

    1 Samuel 12:24
    But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.

    These words are always in my mind! Because i Know How Great God is.

    Thank you Pastor for your inspiring words!


  2. Oh, pastor...Thank you so much for your kind and sweet words on my blog! I am a girl from the coutry...
    I appreciate/value the sky, the bushes, the trees, the grass, the flowers, the rain, the sun, the wind…because that is God’s work: He gives us all the good things for us to be grateful and happy. My poems (some of them) are about it!
    I wish I could go often to the countryside. But My work is in a small town…Small but we have cars, streets, buildings, shopping centers…pollution…envy…vices….
    I’m not very happy here! So I try to stay by myself with my husband…and the good Lord!

    God Bless you!

    Psalm 5:2
    "Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray."

    Isabel (BShell)