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The Gift of God’s Presence

As we enter the Christmas Season, we’ve been unwrapping some of the greatest gifts ever given. You cannot buy these gifts with money, or find them under the tree. They are given by God, through His Son Jesus Christ, received by faith.

Introduction

It was Christmas Eve.  A husband and wife were enjoying a quiet evening at home: baking cookies, listening to Christmas music, making a box of goodies for neighborhood friends.  It was a different kind of year.  All of their children had grown up, and moved out of the house.  Their son was married; he and his wife had children of his own.  They lived on the east coast, 500 miles away.  They wanted to come home, but it was a long trip to make with little ones.  Meanwhile, their daughter was in her third year of college, all they on the other side of the country in California.  Buying a plane ticket, to fly home between semesters, was expensive.  As much as she wanted to see her mom and dad, she had decided spend the holiday with friends.

The parents understood.  They knew they would get a phone call from both of their children on Christmas day.  They looked forward to hearing their voices, and talking for a half hour or more about what was happening in their world.  They might even get to Skype with the grandkids, and watch them open the open the presents they had sent through the mail.  It would be fun, but not quite the same as being together, in person.

The husband and wife sat down in the living room, and turned on one of their favorite Christmas movies.  Just then they heard a knock at the front door.  Who could it be at this hour, on Christmas Eve?  Maybe it’s one of their friends, stopping by to wish them a Merry Christmas.  Maybe it was a group of Christmas carolers making their way through the neighborhood.  The knock became louder, and the couple rushed to the door to see who it might be.  As they opened the door they were overwhelmed to see their children and grandchildren standing on the porch in front of them.  “Surprise!” they shouted.  What a wonderful surprise it was.  This would be a Christmas gift they would cherish: to be together, seeing them face to face, sitting down at the table as a family, enjoying each other’s presence.  They would never forget this Christmas!

We started a series last week, preparing our hearts for the Christmas season.  Each week we will spend time unwrapping some of the gifts that God has given to us through His Son, Jesus.

How wonderful it is to discover the gift of God’s presence.  On that very first Christmas morning, the Lord did something infinitely better than making a long distance call from a far-away place.  He did something much better than sending a card across the universe.  He came near, stepping down from the glory of heaven into our world in the person of Jesus Christ.

What an amazing gift!  Deep within the human heart there is a longing to know God.  It’s what we were made for: to walk in fellowship with our Creator, to experience His presence in our lives.  But something happened, a long time ago, creating a barrier between us.  Sin entered the world, causing separation between God and Humanity.  Even though He is present, all around us, it sometimes feels as if He is beyond our reach.  We may find ourselves asking “where are you, Lord?”  He seems so distant, so far away.  He hasn’t gone anywhere, we have.  We’ve gone astray and are not able to find our way back home.  Christmas is about God reaching across the divide by becoming a human being.  If the Son of God came to earth at Christmas, we should welcome him into our hearts

As we turn in our Bibles to John 1, we notice this gospel describes the coming of Christ from a different perspective.  Matthew and Luke tell us about Mary and Joseph, the message of the angels, the journey to Bethlehem, and the visit from shepherds and wise men.  We don’t find any of that here, in the Gospel of John.  He goes back even further, to the beginning of time, and he shows us that Jesus was there.

Verse 1 tells us,

In the beginning…”  That is before there were stars, and planets, before the first man and women were given life, before our story began…

“In the beginning was the Word…”

[this is John’s way of introducing the second person of the trinity.  As one commentator puts it, He is “…that powerful, creative, dynamic word which was the agent of creation, that guiding, directing, controlling word which [brought] order to the universe…”( Barclay, W. The Gospel of John Vol. 1, pp. 80–82).

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

And so the story of Jesus did not begin that starry night in Bethlehem, two-thousand years ago.  Before the world began, the Son of God existed in glory with His Father (and the Holy Spirit).  Throughout all eternity, he was with God, but more than that, He is God: everlasting, infinite, full of glory, perfect in every way, fully divine.

We could spend an entire day looking at this passage, talking about the deity of Christ.  But our focus this morning is on verse 14.  The one John refers to as the Living Word, the second person of the Trinity, who was with the Father, sharing the Father’s glory throughout all eternity, at a pivotal moment in history came to this earth.  He wrapped himself in humanity, and entered our world as tiny infant.  Why would he do that?  He must have had a very important reason to go through all of that: shrouding his majesty, setting aside his glory for a time, becoming mortal.  What did he hope to accomplish?

The Lord entered our world at Christmas to share our humanity.

Verse 14 says, “The Word became flesh…”  Jesus was born.  The Creator of all things entered his creation.  The immortal God was wrapped in mortal flesh.  He was born as a little baby, just like you and me, helpless and weak.  His parents fed him milk, because he was hungry.  They covered him with a blanket, because he was cold.  They held him in their arms, because he cried.  In the years to come, he grew a little taller each day, and learned new things through his studies. There was never a moment when he stopped being God, but he became a human being, like us in every possible way except for one – he was without sin.

Throughout the gospels, we find example after example of his humanity.  It’s not just that disguised himself as man, taking on human appearance.  He really did become a man, experiencing the same weakness and limitations that we experience in our lives:

  • There is a passage that tells us he was so exhausted, after a long day of ministry, that he fell asleep in the boat.  Have you ever dozed off in the passenger seat of the car while someone else was driving?  Jesus dozed off while the disciples were navigating to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  He was so tired, he didn’t even feel the waves and wind crashing in around him. (Mark 4:38)
  • Another passage tells us Jesus had gone into the wilderness by himself, to be tempted by the devil.  He hadn’t eaten anything for days, and he was hungry.  The devil appeared, urging Jesus to turn a rock into bread.  You have the power.  Use it.  Make something to eat!  But Jesus wouldn’t do it.  He trusted his Father to provide for him.  (Matt. 4:3)
  • When his friend Lazarus died, Jesus and his disciples went to visit the family.  He saw the heartache of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, and he shared their sorrow.  That passage tells us Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled,” and that “he wept,” (John 11:33, 35)
  • As a man Jesus could bleed, and at the cross he did, when the crown of thorns was placed on his head, and the soldiers whip tore across his back, when his hands and feet were pierced with nails.

Jesus knows what it is like to human.  He understands what it means to be hungry and thirsty, lonely and sad, frustrated and weary.  He experienced the joys and sorrows of this earth.  And so he is able to relate to us.  We can come to him with whatever is weighing on our hearts.  He gets it.  He is not a God so distant and so far removed that he is clueless about what it is like to be human.  He went through the same kinds of struggles that we go through.

Sometimes people tells us, “I know what you’re going through,” but they don’t know.  Imagine if a pregnant woman were talking to her husband about the difficulties she was having (morning sickness, mood swings, cravings for different kinds of food…).  Just think how she would react if he said, “Honey, I understand, I know exactly what you mean.”  She would say, “No you don’t!  There’s no way you can relate to what I’m going through.  I’m the one with the bundle of joy inside me, not you buddy!”  — He would be on the receiving end of one of those mood swings— As a man, he has never been there, and he never will.  He can imagine what it would be like, and feel for her, but he can’t fully relate to her experience.  If she wants helpful input from someone who has walked in her shoes, she’s going to feel a lot better talking to another woman about those challenges.

Sometimes people think “God doesn’t understand what I’m going through.  He can’t relate to me in the problems I’m facing.  How could he?  He is the Almighty, and I’m a mortal creature.”  He knows, better than you might think.  He walked in our shoes….

Hebrews 2:14 tells us, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death…that is the devil”

And Hebrews 4:15–16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

The Lord entered our world at Christmas to dwell in our midst.

John 1:14 says, “The word became and made his dwelling among us…”  Jesus came near, and took up residence on the earth, spending more than 30 years rubbing shoulders with ordinary people.

Of course, in one sense, God has always close.  The Bible tells us He is omnipresent, which means he is everywhere all of the time.  God can be here as our congregation gathers for worship, while listening to the songs of the church down the street, and at the same time He is across the world responding to the prayers of believers in China.   God’s presence fills the universe.  But in a different sense, the human race came to experience His presence in closer, more personal way, when Christ entered the world.  He was part of an earthly family, with a human parents and siblings. Growing up he made friends with other children in the neighborhood.  As he got older rubbed shoulders with people het met in the marketplace.  You could look into his eyes and see his smile.  You could hear the sound of his voice, and feel his hand on your shoulder.  You could sit at his feet, asking him questions.

From all, outward appearances, he would have seemed to most people who met him like an ordinary person.  But those who knew better understood that there was something unique about Jesus.  They were standing in the presence of deity.

Throughout the gospels, we see that Jesus delighted in spending time with people.  He didn’t hide or keep his distance.  He was often surrounded by a crowd.

The word used in the verse “dwelling among us,” literally means “to pitch a tent” or “to tabernacle.”  That takes us back to the OT, when the children of Israel were led out of Egypt into the wilderness.  God instructed them to build a tabernacle.  It would be a place where His presence would reside, and where his people could come to meet with Him.  They would be able to say the Lord was dwelling in the midst of their camp, and He promised to go with them, throughout their journey.  Exodus 40:34 says, “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” The passage goes on to say that every day, the people were able to visibly witness God’s presence in the cloud that rested over the tabernacle by day, and the fire that lit up the sky at night.  He led them through the desert, and they knew that the Lord was with them.  Truly that must have been an amazing thing to experience, but the miracle at Christmas was even greater.  God pitched a tent on this earth made of flesh and bone, he dwelt among us, appearing not in cloud and fire, but as a living person.  He reached out his hand to touch the lonely, and invited the crowds to spend time in his presence listening to his voice.  He didn’t try to avoid the outcast, but sought them out.

Awhile back I visited a friend who lives in Phoenix.  His neighborhood is part of a gated community.  There is a wall that goes all the way around the housing development and in order to get through the entrance you have to type the right password on the number pad.  It adds a measure of security.  It keeps people from wandering through the streets, who don’t live there, and makes it more difficult for someone to break in…  We might expect that Jesus would have wanted to limit who had access to him during the time he spent on this earth (better keep away from that part of town… don’t want to be caught with those people…) But actually, the opposite was true.  He didn’t put up a gate or keep people away, he drew close to them.  None of us are worthy to stand in his presence, but that didn’t stop him from bringing us his love.

He calls us to do the same.  We need to look for ways to reach beyond our circle of family, friends, and acquaintances to show them there’s someone who cares.  Maybe it’s striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to you at the doctor’s office.  Maybe it walking across the street to take a plate of cookies to a neighbor.

The Lord entered our world at Christmas to reveal Himself.

Look at next line in verse 14. “…We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Have you ever wondered what God is like?  What kind of character does he have?  What makes him smile?  What breaks his heart?  What are his plans and purposes?  What does he think about you and me?  Jesus came from heaven to show us.

The word “only begotten” means “one and only,” something unique, one of kind, there’s nothing else in the world like it.  And that is a fitting description for Jesus.  He is the unique Son of God who came to tell the world about his heavenly Father.  He displayed God’s glory in everything He did: through his miracles, and the message he preached, and in the love that he demonstrated to others

If we want to know what God is like, all we have to do is look at Jesus.  We might look a child and say, “He’s a chip off the old block.”  We mean that the boy resembles his dad.  He might look like him: the same smile, the same eyes, the same color hair.  He might act like him: he walks like his dad, or has a way of getting into trouble like his father did at that age.  He might talk like him: there is the same tone in his voice.  He might be good at the same things: he’s good a fixing things or working on the farm.  It’s usually a compliment for someone to say, “you remind me of your dad.”  Jesus perfectly reflected his Father’s radiance in everything he did, because he is God.

Look down at John 1:18“No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

There is something that should be clear to us by now: God isn’t hiding from anyone.  He wants us to find him.  Everywhere we look, we see evidence that He is there.

  • We see it in nature.  When you look up at the stars at night, we see the beauty of what he has made, and we realize God exists, and must be good to bring a world into being as spectacular as ours.  He must also be powerful, because only a mighty God could stretch out a universe so vast.  We can learn a lot from creation, but there is a limit to what it teaches us.
  • We see Him in Scripture.  Throughout history, God sent prophets to declare his message.  They tell us about God: that He is holy and just.  They tell us what God expects of us: to worship Him and to walk in His ways.  They tell us about the future, events that He will bring about according to His will.  There is a great deal we can learn from their witness.  But God wants us to give us more than his words.

And so at a pivotal moment in history, Christ came down from heaven, entering our world, to show us the Father’s love.  He does more than just tell us what the Father is like, He invites us into a relationship with Father, making a way for sinful men to be restored into fellowship with the Holy God.  One commentator writes, “In Jesus Christ the distant, unknowable, invisible, unreachable God has come to men and women; and God can never be a stranger to us again.” (Barclay, W.  The Gospel of John Vol. 1, p. 86)

Do you know God?  I don’t mean, do you know things about him.  Maybe you believe that there is a God, and that He must be powerful and glorious. Maybe you believe that there was a person named Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.  But do you know Him in a personal way?  Have you entered into a relationship with Him?  Have you surrendered your life to Him, asking Him to become your Savior and Lord?   We’re not left on our own to speculate what God might be like.  And we’re able to do more than simply read about him in the Bible.  We can welcome him into our heart, and into our life.

Conclusion –

Maybe you are thinking “that’s great the Son of God came to earth two thousand years ago, but what about our world today?  What is that to me?  I’m not standing in Bethlehem, with Shepherds or Wise Men.  How does his coming to earth change my life?

It affects your life because he came to deliver you from sin.  Jesus shared in our humanity, taking on flesh and blood, so that he could die for us, removing the barrier that separates us from the Father, opening up a way for us to enter a relationship with Him.  It’s not just that he came to live on the earth, he came to live inside us.  In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”  –  He is knocking, will you open?

If you know Him, as Savior and Lord, He not only wants you to enjoy His presence in your life.  He calls you to go forth, into this world, and make His presence known to the people around you. Show his love to those who are hurting.  Reach out with His compassion to the hurting and broken hearted.

Stand in awe.  Be amazed.  Marvel at what he has done.  Don’t let the story of Christmas become so familiar that it no longer takes your breath away.  If Christmas has lost its wonder, pause and consider these verses anew, think about what it means that the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

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