Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Hopes - God's Intimacy

Preached on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015
Scripture readings: Genesis 32:22-30; Luke 2:1-7
“The time came for the baby to be born, and Mary gave birth to her firstborn. She wrapped him in clothes, and placed him in a feed trough.” (Luke 2:6-7)
Christmas Decorations
Riverside Community Church
December 2015
We know that this wasn’t all that Mary did (or that Mary and Joseph did together). We know they must have found water to wash the baby; and they must have held the baby too.
What we call “swaddling clothes” (in the old translations) were a square of cloth with another long, long narrow strip of cloth. The square went around the baby diagonally. The long strip of cloth was wrapped around and around the baby, up and down, up and down. It kept the baby from moving much.
Swaddling clothes seem sort of inhumane to me. Have you ever thought about that? And, yet, everybody in that part of the world, in those ancient times, began their lives wrapped up tight in swaddling clothes.
In another way, in my profound ignorance about babies, I imagine swaddling clothes as the primitive technology for a permanent hug: a hug that never let go. Perhaps it was like a hug that made a baby feel almost permanently safe and cared for. But, surely, Mary also hugged Jesus a lot.
Orphanages found, long ago, that the little babies who came to them needed to be hugged often, or else they would probably die.
I remember how, when I was small, I loved to give and receive what I learned to call “bear hugs”. I remember giving my mom bear hugs when she would come and tuck me in at night.
I remember when I was four years old, and it was evening on my Aunt Lorraine’s and Uncle Henry’s front porch in Toledo, Ohio. I remember hugging my dad and telling him I loved him. And I can remember him teaching me, then and there, not to do that any more. He told me that boys don’t hug other boys or tell them that they love them, and that I shouldn’t do that with him either. And that was the end of that.
I was in my forties before my dad suddenly, and unexpectedly, started to hug me and tell me that he loved me. But the old, original lesson to a four-year-old was hard to unlearn.
I have to admit that it never came easily for me to hug my dad back when he started hugging me in my adult life. It always seemed strange.
I think it was because, for a four year old, my father was like a runaway from me, although he was always there.
The human race is a species of runaways. In the Garden of Eden we ran away from God. Adam ran away from Eve, emotionally and spiritually, when he blamed her, in the presence of God, for his own betrayal of God. We are a race of runaways.
We try to find someone to love us and hug us, but even believers often choose whom to love without God’s help and blessing. So many people are looking for love in all the wrong places. Even though they seem to be looking for love, they are also running from it at the same time.
Today we have more and more people looking for love without giving and receiving the promises that are the only way to make true love possible. We are runaways from all promises and vows, and we have forgotten that true love loves to make promises.
Promises are like a hug of words that come from the heart. Vows from the heart are the heart seeking to give and receive faithfulness. Promises and vows from the heart are intimacy. So in a world that pretends to have intimacy all the time, without rules, we are really runaways from intimacy.
Such is the world we live in. It explains why human beings can do what they do to each other all around the world. This is the real identity of what we call sin.
Sin is not something you can make a list of, although such lists do exist. Sin is everything that we do to run away from love and faithfulness towards God and towards others.
There seems to be no cure for this runaway life of the human race. Except that the one who is greater than us wants to give us the hope and the experience of intimacy.
Intimacy was the gift to all humans in their creation. Intimacy is the gift that God came, in Jesus, to give back to us.
But we see a picture of this God much further back in time. We see this God coming to the runaway named Jacob, to wrestle with Jacob in the dark.
It was no accident. And although Jacob thought that the mysterious wrester was trying to get away from, that was not the wrestler’s intention at all. God held Jacob in his arms, against Jacob’s will, so that he could bless him, and give him a new name, and a new identity.
In the fullness of time, this God went so much further, in the beautiful story that we remember at Christmas. God became our mysterious wrestler in Jesus.
God was born as a baby who was swaddled and hugged in order to grab, and hold, and hug this world of runaways and not let go however much we struggle. God was born as a baby to hug us, and give us a new name and a new identity, and to help us be wrestlers and huggers of the world he loves so much.
Some people are looking for intelligence. Some people are looking for enlightenment. God is looking to have a hug with us. Maybe it is the infinite and unconditional hug of God that provides all the intelligence and enlightenment that we need. The hug of God gives us a new name and a new identity; a new heart and mind.
Remember someone reaching out their arms to hug you? After your inner picture of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, and after the many other pictures we may have of Jesus in our hearts, the great picture of Jesus with his arms stretched out on the cross is the great picture of God reaching out to hug us and the whole world.
Both the manger and the cross are God’s promise of the intimacy. It is the intimacy that comes from grace, and from the forgiveness that gives us a new heart. This makes us ready to be genuinely loved as God made us to be loved.
The Lord’s Supper is also a part of the intimacy of God’s heart. Here God reveals himself as the one who can come inside us, and feed our souls, and give us the life that comes with everlasting intimacy.
The preacher and author Timothy Keller wrote this: “Christmas is an invitation to know Christ personally. Christmas is an invitation by God to say: Look what I’ve done to come near to you. Now draw near to me. I don’t want to be a concept. I want to be a friend.”

Now, all that is left for us to do is to receive him. Let’s hug the one who was born in Bethlehem; the one who was wrapped in swaddling clothes, and the one who died on the cross, in order to hug us and make us new. Then we can hug, with Jesus, the world that Jesus wrestles with and loves.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, the quote from Timothy Keller is somehow not coming out, it just shows a blank white box to us.
    Swaddling clothes/hug- that is interesting how you put those two together but I think you are correct. My son loved to be swaddled in a blanket as a newborn in the hospital, but I could never master that swaddling myself!