“I AM.” “I AM WHO I AM.” “Yahweh”
On the night Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph were arriving at the end of a long and tiring journey, around 80 miles on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Imagine their disappointment when they found out that the journey would not end with a comfortable night’s sleep: there was no room for them at the inn. Still, the innkeeper offered the little he could give, which was a place in his stable for them to stay.
Christmas Eve celebrates this sacred night, the end of our Advent journey, and we can use it to prepare our hearts for the arrival of Jesus.
Take a moment to ready your heart for the arrival of Joy on Christmas day.
"On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close?" - Pope Francis (Christmas Homily, 2014) This year has seen many moments that called out for the "tenderness of God." Challenging moments of the pandemic, war, suffering, natural disaster, and human-caused neglect - seemingly harsh, rather than tender. Some might use the harshness of the world as an excuse to move away from God or render God irrelevant. Yet, there is still a seeking in the human heart given by God who desires to embrace us and draw us close. When we look at the scene of the Nativity, do we see the tenderness of God in the midst of the harsh reality that Mary and Joseph were not shown tenderness in their need, but instead were rejected?
The Son of God came into the world in poverty. At the end of his earthly life, he was rejected once again. The Father, though, continued to show mercy, love, and tenderness by raising him up, opening the way to salvation, and leaving us a share in Christ's mission of love and mercy until he comes again.
Who are you, God? The people of the Old Testament asked.
God replied: “I AM.” “I AM WHO I AM.” “Yahweh”
I am the source of all life from electrons and atoms to tadpoles and dolphins, to turtles and alligators, to flowers, corn and trees, to squirrels and elephants, to human beings of every shape, size and color, to planets, stars, galaxies and the universe itself. “I AM“ the source of all life.
“I Am” the energy that thrusts this universe forward on its journey into space. “I Am” the silent presence in your midst. “I Am” love, drawing all things into the fullness of life.
God will always remain a mystery to us because our minds are not strong enough to understand. We will always have to rely on faith, faith in what seems to us to be true, what we sense at times as coming from God but can never fully explain, comprehend or prove.
Tonight, we celebrate one of the greatest mysteries in our beliefs about God. We believe that the God, “I AM”, chose to enter fully into our humanity by becoming one with us in the person of Jesus Christ. Why? Why would God do such a thing? If we believe that God is already in our midst as our very lifeline, why take on a human form? Because we are human, we understand humans. It seems that God chose to become one with us in order to show us the way, to teach us how to live and love. As humans we could better understand the message in our human way of learning.
In choosing to become one of us, “I AM” entered into the fullness of the human experience. Through Jesus, God joined in on our lives from our point of view. In Jesus, God lived as humans do, from the helplessness of infancy, to being loved or rejected, to suffering a violent death on the cross. Through Jesus, God shared with us what was best for us to be and do. Through Jesus, God delivered a message of love so strong that it even entailed the endurance of intense suffering and death on a cross.
In looking at the life of Jesus, we can be confident that God understands our limitations, our suffering and our joy. Jesus gave us a picture of God’s love in action. He chose very ordinary men and women to be part of his ministry, not the rich, the religious leaders or the upper class. He chose illiterate fishermen, despised tax collectors and even a robber/traitor to follow him. However, even though he seemed to have a preference for the poor, he also reached out to everyone else in his ministry – rich, poor, sinner or saint, Gentile or Jew.
But his favorites were the poor – poor not only physically but spiritually. Because he was truly human, he was able to empathize with their pain, their hunger, their bondage and worked to set them free and bring them to wholeness. Just as one example, think of the lepers he encountered – they were outcasts, forced to live outside of the community, who sustained themselves by begging. They could not touch or be touched and Jesus, teaching us God’s love for humankind, reached out to them, touched them, healed them and endured the scorn of religious leaders for doing so.
If Jesus were to come into our world today, who would he reach out to first? We have so many people in our world today hungering for that same kind of love, people who are not accepted as a valuable part of the human community. Would he come to refugees, the hungry, the homeless or enslaved? To whom do we reach out?
I believe that God is always with us, the one who gives us life in the first place. But I also believe that in overflowing love God has chosen to be intimately involved in our lives, by living in our midst in the person of Jesus. God has chosen to live the way we live with our joys and suffering, health and pain, acceptance or rejection. That is the mystery we celebrate this evening. This is “I AM” right here in our midst “where two or three are gathered in my name.”
In the words of the prophet Zephaniah, we have reason to rejoice on this eve of Christmas. “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty saviour; God will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you with love, God will sing joyfully because of you as one sings at festivals.” 3:17-18
Let us sing and rejoice in the love of our God! Let us raise our voices and our hearts in gratitude to our God who loves and understands us in our best moments and more importantly, in our worst ones.
Hidden Christmas – Timothy Keller
Because of Bethlehem – Max Lucado
The First Songs of Christmas: An Advent Devotional - Nancy Leigh DeMoss
The Crippled Lamb – Max Lucado
Jesus Calling: The Story of Christmas - Sarah Young
The Greatest Gift - Ann Voskamp