Every story, from fiction to the histories of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and including the stories on the news today have predictable parts. Stories have a plot – something happens. Stories have to have characters: people, animals, sometimes super-human characters.
And stories have narrators. Someone is telling the story. Sometimes a character in the story tells their story, and sometimes the narrator is behind the scenes who knows all and sees all, and can tell us, even about the thoughts of each character.
You learn all of this in school; it is common knowledge. I guess I am a slow learner, but it was not until I was in seminary that I heard the idea that God is a character in the stories in the bible. It seemed odd to think of God as a character of someone’s story, but when you think about it, you see it has to be that way. How else would God do or say anything in the story unless God was a character?
What kind of character is God? Well, in the Bible, it is complicated. Sometimes you hear God say,
“Am I a human that I should change?”
but of course God is not a human in those stories.
Yet, at other times, God changes what he said he would do when people like Moses ask him to. It actually says God changed his mind. The picture of God as a character is complicated and evolves over time.
It matters to us, what kind of character God is, in the story. What does God care about? What does God want? What does God think about us mortal humans? What, if anything, does he want from us?
The stories we tell about God help us understand how we answer those questions.
By the time we come to the New Testament, we have an amazing set of stories. God who has been a behind the scenes character, comes to his people as a human character.
So, the essence of the Christian story is that God comes to his people.
And that is why this story gives us hope. Not because God came to people at one time in the distant past, but that this story tells us who God is, what his character is like, and what God wants.
What is God like? God is a God who characteristically comes to his people – and this is what we trust is happening all the time.
The Christmas story is not just a single story of something that happened once, long ago, it is our story, in all its personal and realistic detail.
It is a story about the notion that God not only came to Mary and Joseph in the form of a baby, but that God comes to us. We who gather here can bear witness to the truth that God comes to us, to be Emmanuel – God with us.
Just as in the Christmas story, God comes to us as we are – normal people. People like us, who have much more in common with working class shepherds and peasant parents than the royalty in the palace of king Herod.
God comes to us in our difficult circumstances. Like Mary and Joseph, whose lives are thrown into turmoil by the exploitation they were forced to endure at the hands of an empire with an insatiable appetite for squeezing peasants, we too often feel victimized by systems and forces beyond our control. And even in those times, God comes to us.
God comes to us, just like in the Christmas story, in completely unassuming ways. God is not adverse to showing up in a stable with farm animals and barnyard smells. God comes to us, not waiting until we are scrubbed, shaved, quaffed, and surrounded by stained glass.
God comes to us as to Mary and Joseph, in the messiness and ambiguity of everyday life. God comes to imperfect people; people with a past. People with issues. People in doubt. People who are on the verge of hopelessness.
And when God comes to us, how does God show up? Not in a fiery chariot or a blinding blaze of light. Like a baby, God comes to us, not to intimidate or coerce us, but offering the presence of God to us. God comes to us, as the Christmas hymn says, often “veiled in flesh.”
And just as a solitary child in an unlikely setting, God’s coming to us may be mistaken for something common. But God does come to us, and we will know it, if we will only stop, and pay attention, and open ourselves to the possibility that what is happening is indeed God coming to us, in the moment.
God comes to us in every act of human kindness.
God comes to us in human words offering comfort and support.
God comes in acts of compassion and sacrifice.
God comes to us in every expression of God’s essence: in every act of love.
God comes to us, as in the Christmas story, at night, when the world is dark. When hope seems absent. In the dark night of racial turmoil and senseless violence, God comes to us. In the inky darkness of humanity’s history of evil and oppression, even in times like these, in fact, precisely because of times like these, God comes to us.
God comes as a light in the darkness. God comes to us to illumine an alternative way to be human, the way that Jesus showed us.
God comes to us, offering his presence, if we are willing to pause and become aware of God’s light.
This is the Christmas story: that Jesus has come to us as a sign that God has come to his people. Jesus has come, as the light of the world.
And in that light, God saves us. “Christ, our saviour is born.”
God’s light saves us, if we will let it, from ourselves, and from destroying each other.
God’s light comes to save us from meaninglessness and to save us from hopelessness.
To save us for a life of gratitude and grace, a life of wonder and awe, a life of compassion and mercy, a life of love. A bright, luminous life as a child of God.
Let this be the light we light tonight, and the light that we take with us, to shine in our hearts this Christmas season.
Hymn: Silent Night (during the hymn we will pass the light to each other until all our candles are lit)