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Take Jesus Home 2

We are taking the baby home this Advent and Christmas so that he will change our lives. The baby we are talking about is Jesus – God come into this world as an infant. When you take a baby home, your whole life changes. Priorities change. Life patterns change. Your finances change. Your friendships sometimes change.

When you encounter Jesus only at church and he is left here he remains at a safe distance. You don’t have to worry about how you live the rest of the week. You don’t need to worry about love, forgiveness, prayer, humility, living for God’s kingdom, or anything else Jesus is about. You can just live for yourself.

But when you bring Jesus home, into your life marriage, parenting and grandparenting, job, friendships, your retirement, your Monday through Saturday life, you are changed.

Things get rearranged. Life is impacted.

If Christ is not Lord of your life, I hope somewhere and in someway during the days of Advent and Christmas you know the impact of taking the baby Jesus home and into your life.

The angel Gabriel is a busy guy. First, he was sent by God to Zechariah to tell him that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son who we know as John the Baptist. Now he is sent to a young, peasant girl in a small, obscure town called Nazareth. He tells her that she is going to have a child. Mary wants to know how this can happen since she is unmarried and has not had relations with a man.

She asks, “how can this be?” How can this be?

That Jesus was born to a virgin is central to the Christmas message. It is what Christians have believed by faith. When we say The Apostle’s Creed, which is an ancient statement that puts the essence of Christian belief in a concise form, we say,

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary…

That Jesus was born to a virgin is one of the great mysteries of faith. How can it be?

In 1817 the poet John Keats wrote a letter to his brothers in which he used the term “Negative Capability”. Negative capability is when someone is capable of living in uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts without becoming irritated that they can’t get to the reason behind things. Negative capability is being capable of believing what is not there. It is being able to live with what can’t be explained, what is beyond hard fact and what can’t be calculated rationally. You know something to be true, but you can’t explain it and you are OK with the uncertainty. Negative capability means you don’t have all the answers, or maybe any answers. You are capable of being all right with what you don’t know.

The opposite of negative capability is to have to be able to explain and rationalize everything. You can only accept what can be explained.

For example, things like truth, beauty, holiness, imagination, and love are things that defy explanation and to try too hard is to just mess it all up. Try to explain why you love your grandchild or your spouse. Try to explain why the Wasatch range is so majestic. Try to explain how an orange tastes. Explanation just lessens those things. Negative capability is being able to say, “I know something is there, but I don’t know exactly why or how it is there.”

I believe that Jesus was born to a virgin. That’s what makes Jesus unique, holy, the Son of God. If Jesus was born like anyone else then he is only human. But if he is divine he has the power to save, because only God can save.

So I believe in the virgin birth, but I also believe in science. I believe the climate is changing. I believe vaccinations are vital. I believe in facts and the need for evidence. I am rational. But some things in life don’t always fit into scientific categories.

To say that only what I can understand and is comprehensible to me is what God is capable of is idolatry. It is putting my intellectual capacities ahead of God. If I think God can only do what I can understand and nothing more than am I not worshipping the powers of my own understanding? Am I not putting my ability to explain above God?

Writing about Gabriel’s visit to Mary, Kathleen Norris says the notion that the measure of what we can understand, and that what is comprehensible and acceptable to us is also the measure of God is the idolatry of ourselves. We, in essence, worship our own powers of understanding. We worship our ability to explain. Really? God can only do what I am able to understand?

Mary conceiving a child without knowing a man is mystery. But then aren’t we talking about God? Maybe the question is “in what kind of a God do I believe?”

The award-winning writer, Madeleine L’Engle, wrote,

“The only God who seems to me to be worth believing in is impossible for mortal man to understand, and therefore [God] teaches us through the impossible.”[1]

It’s way harder for we who are 21st century, western, technological, scientific, hyper-rational people to get. If it can’t be explained, then it can’t be.

Some people have no room for God or Christ because they are so filled with reason. (I’m not anti-reason.) It’s all very safe. It’s all, also, very small. God is no larger than what I can comprehend. God isn’t any bigger than our minds or understanding That’s not a God worth believing in or worshipping in my book.

Thinking about Advent and Christmas and the birth of Christ, L’Engle also wrote this poem:

This is the irrational season

When love blooms bright and wild

Had Mary been filled with reason

There’d have been no room for the child.[2]

Do you have room for God in you? Let every heart prepare him room.

In order to believe this you have to believe in God. You have to believe in the Holy Spirit. You have to believe that God breaks into the universe from the outside, does the miraculous from time to time, and does stuff like this. You have to have faith. Heck, Macy’s big Christmas advertising campaign told us to “believe.” Have you seen that? Well, what if God says “Believe”? Are we OK with Macy’s but not God?

I would say that Mary was a person with great Negative Capability. She asked, “how can it be?” That’s our question too. Gabriel’s answer was “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

That’s the explanation. That is what God gives Mary and us.

That word “overshadow” can also mean “to cloud”. There were key moments and times when God overshadowed places and his people. The glory of the Lord clouded over the mountain where Moses went to receive the commandments.[3] The glory of the Lord overshadowed the Tabernacle of Moses.[4] The cloud of the Lord was over Israel when it set out from the camp by day.[5]

In Deuteronomy it says the Lord overshadowed Benjamin and those loved by the Lord.[6] Psalm 91 says the person who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of Almighty (Hebrew - Shaddai).

And on the Mount, when Jesus is transfigured before Peter, John and James, and Moses and Elijah appeared, a cloud came and overshadowed them. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”[7]

In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells the disciples that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. It is the same word that Gabriel uses to tell Mary that the Holy Spirit will come upon her. The Holy Spirit not only formed Christ’s body in Mary’s womb, but he formed Christ’s body, the Church, at Pentecost. He is still forming, empowering, and moving Christ’s body.

In Genesis 1:2 it is the Spirit of God hovering over the waters that moves to create something out of nothing. And now that very same presence, that very same cloud, that very same Most High God overshadows Mary. There was nothing there but now there is something there. And that something is the Son of God.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

That doesn’t explain how. But Mary accepts it. She takes the Lord at his word.

Luke, the writer of this Gospel and who records this event for us, had negative capability. Luke was a physician and would undoubtedly want to search and figure out Mary’s pregnancy. But he leaves it as a mystery of God through the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t try to explain how this could be.

But the point of this miracle of God isn’t Mary. Yes, she is receptive. Yes, she is obedient. It will require all of her. It will consume her life. But it really isn’t about her.

The point is Jesus. This is how God comes into the world.

Gabriel spells out what this child will be.

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.

He will receive the throne of his father David, and will reign over the house of Jacob forever.

He will have a kingdom that will never end.

And the reason it has to happen like this is because Jesus is totally different and unique than anyone else. He is human and divine. It’s OK if Isaac and Samuel and John the Baptist – other miraculous births in the Bible – are born of man and woman. Though unique in their own right they were human. But Jesus is human and divine. Man and God.

What happens in Mary is a God-thing.

Read the Christmas story and you will read about Zechariah and Elizabeth, angels, Mary and Joseph, shepherds. But don’t miss the most important character of all: God.

God is the main character in all of these events.

God is the subject of the entire story.[8] God is the one who makes things happen. Its why the angels will sing, “Glory to God in the highest!”

God is the one who chooses Zechariah and Elizabeth. God is the one who allows them to conceive and brings John. God is the one who sends Gabriel. God is the one who overshadows Mary.

God is the one who raises up Caesar Augustus and makes him power hungry enough to issue a decree to get people to their place of birth for taxation, which gets Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem where Christ is to be born, as the prophets had said.

Oh yes, God is moving. God moving through his Holy Spirit to bring his Son into this world.

There was a famous theologian named Karl Barth who said that the virgin birth is a “summons to reverence and worship.” He said those who can’t believe it want a comfortable encounter with a God who is too familiar and too far-off.[9] Is the God you believe in too familiar and too far-off? That is not the God of the Bible. His encounters are not always comfortable and he is not distant.

Christmas should lead us to worship. It is supposed to expand our hearts so that our hearts can bow down before God. It should renew our belief of how big our God is.

Would we really want a God whose activity and ways are small enough for us to explain in all aspects? Do we want a God who we can totally fit into the compartment of our understanding?

Is there more than just what we can explain? Are we such control-freaks that we are scared to look outside of ourselves, or imagine something that might be larger and much more massive than us?

Did God really come to earth as a human being? Was the baby who was brand new really older than eternity?[10]

And then there is the rest of this faith we live in: Am I really separated from God because of my sin, and can’t regain that relationship on my own? Surely there is some good thing I can do to make it all right. It’s probably just a minor misunderstanding.

Did the death of Jesus of Nazareth on a cross really atone for my sins and those of the whole world? Was he really the Son of God and the only way to God?

Did he really die and come out of that tomb alive? It doesn’t fit into my understanding, so how can that be?

Does God really care who I am and what I do? Does he really want to have a relationship with me? Does he really want me to talk to him and he will really hear? Has God spoken to us?

Is Jesus really a king?! Does he have a kingdom? Are we really made for eternity and is there really a place he has prepared after death for those who trust him?

Does God really love me, as broken and ungodly as I can often times be? Does he accept me by his grace?

Is God really present in bread and the cup? Does Jesus meet us at this table?

Christians believe we have seen and known the great and awesome God in Jesus Christ, his only Son. John wrote in his gospel, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”[11]

God is too big for anyone to get. But Jesus made him “small”, you might say. When God came in Jesus Christ he made himself accessible. He came in the flesh so that we could see him, hear him, and know him in a way never possible before.

What is God like? Look at Jesus Christ. He came as a baby.

For nothing is impossible for God. Believe it.

[1] The Irrational Season, p.19 [2] Ibid, p.6 [3] Exodus 24:15-18 [4] Exodus 40:35; Numbers 9:18,22 [5] Numbers 10:34,36 [6] Deuteronomy 33:12 [7] Luke 9:34-35 [8] Fred Craddock, Luke, p.22 [9] Found in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson, p.56 [10] This brilliant phrase comes from Luci Shaw’s poem “Mary’s Song” [11] John 1:18

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