Perhaps the most profound word in human language is the word “with” because it describes the purpose for all of Creation and the goal to which God is in the process of guiding the world, and also describes the final outcome: that God will be with his people, and his people will be together, with him.
It starts in the Garden
The Service of Lessons and Carols begins with creation: the perfect world. A fruitful garden, a pair of people, and regular rhythm of daily communion with God, at the time of the evening breeze. This is what we were made for. If anything ever goes wrong, this is what we will try to return to. This is the goal: a world at peace, a world with plenty, human beings in unobstructed communion with God, their Maker; people dwelling with God, God dwelling with people.
I watched a Nature program about our pre-human cousins, chimps. When one has some food, like a banana, another may come up, sit beside him, and hold out her hand, palm upwards, hoping to be given a bit. The upturned palm is, as far as I can tell, a nearly universal posture of supplication, request. It is also a nearly universal religious posture. We are all waiting, empty handed, yearning. Not being with God has left a hole in our hearts. We feel it as a vacancy; we long for something we were made for, but lost; the with-ness of God.
I have read other stories from other religions of a god coming to earth in a human form. In the Odyssey, Athena comes to help Telemachus, Odysseus’s son, by disguising herself in in the form of various friends; she plays her part and vanishes.
The miracle of Christmas that, for me, seems even larger than that God would become human is that he would want to. After all we have done – all our wars, all our violence, all our selfishness and evil, all our neglectfulness and arrogance, all of our exclusion and pretensions – that he would care about usanymore. That he would deign to live among us, as one of us!
His goal, is our redemption. His goal is restoration of what was lost. His goal is to get us to see each other, and all humans, as he does – as valuable to God – even still, in spite of everything. His goal is that we will take his light and become bearers of that light in the world, dark though it may be. The message first came as an overwhelmingly bright light to poor shepherds on a dark night. The message itself was simple: Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.
We will bear that light out into a world that neither glorifies God in the Highest, nor knows peace on earth. We will bear that light in places where real human babies are born into families that cannot hope to feed them properly. We will bear the light into places where real humans are unable to get to a doctor or to medicine. We will bear the light to places where humans are unemployed, homeless, depressed, addicted, lonely, grieving, longing with palms upturned for the with-ness that they were created for.
And he will one day restore all that was lost in the Garden. The goal of creation will be one day achieved. People will come from North and South and East and West and sit together at table in the Kingdom of Heaven, dwelling in peace and in plenty, with each other, and with God. Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.