[This reflection was shared during joint midweek Advent services involving people from four area congregations, including Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, earlier this evening.]
You may have heard the story of the little boy who was finding it hard to sleep at night. He called out from his room for his dad. When his father got there, the little guy said, “The longer I’m here, the darker and scarier it gets. Couldn’t you stay in here until I fall asleep?” “Son,” his dad explained, “nothing bad can happen to you here. Your Mom and I are right down the hall.” “I know, Daddy. But I’m scared.” “You don’t have any reason to be afraid,” the father explained, “God is right here in this room with you.” “I know, Daddy,” the little boy said, “but I want someone with skin on them.”
Christmas is the day you and I celebrate the miracle of God with skin on Him! This really is what the term “Son of God” means. When we call Jesus “the Son of God,” we’re not calling Him the junior partner in the God business or the son of God, the way Philip is our son. Tracing it back to its Semitic roots and uses, calling Jesus “Son of God” has the idea of His being fully God, only made known and visible to you and me. It’s what Paul is talking about in our first lesson, when he speaks of Jesus as “the image of the invisible God,” Who created “all things in heaven and on earth.” Jesus is God with skin on Him.
For some, the whole idea of God becoming human, is a horror, an affront to the dignity of God. But God doesn’t see things that way.
One of my favorite writers is journalist Philip Yancey. Once, he wrote about being in an ornate London auditorium, listening to Handel’s Messiah, and being struck by the chorus singing, “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”
Yancey writes, “I had spent the morning in museums viewing remnants of England’s glory—the crown jewels, a solid ruler’s mace, the Lord Mayor’s gilded carriage—and it occurred to me that such images of wealth and power” must have been in the minds of those familiar with the Old Testament prophecies of a coming Savior. “When the Jews read [the prophecies],” Yancey writes, “no doubt they thought back with sharp nostalgia to the glory days of Solomon, when ‘the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones.’”
Then, Yancey says this: “The Messiah who showed up, however, wore a different kind of glory, the glory of humility…The God Who roared, who could order armies and empires like pawns on a chessboard, this God emerged in Palestine as a baby who could not speak or eat solid food or control his bladder, who depended [on a poor tradesman and a teenage girl] for shelter, food, and love.”
In another place, Paul spoke of the incredible reality of God “with skin on Him,” saying of Jesus that “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as a thing to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”
But God showing up in our world is more than a neat trick. Writer Clark Cothern tells about the Christmas that a squirrel fell down his chimney and into the wood-burning stove in the basement. Cothern says, “I thought that if [the squirrel] knew we were there to help, I could just reach in and gently lift it out. Nothing doing. As I reached in...it began scratching about like a squirrel overdosed on espresso.”
Cothern and his family finally constructed a cardboard box “cage.” There was a hole in one side of it. The squirrel walked in and once inside, Cothern was able to take it outside into a nearby woods.
Later, Cothern says, he thought about how strange it was that before the squirrel was set free, he tried like crazy to bash his way to freedom from his “dark prison” and that the harder he tried, the more pain he caused to himself.
“In the end,” he writes, “he simply had to wait patiently until one who was much bigger--one who could peer into his world--could carry him safely to that larger world where he really belonged.”
This is, in a way is what Jesus, God with skin on Him, does for us. All who dare to entrust themselves to His “tender care” are fitted for heaven to “live with Him there.” This is the One we call our Savior, Emmanuel, God with us, and “the Son of God.”