On the Eve of the Incarnation
Man makes images and calls them gods. The gods we craft barely escape our own image. They rage and roar. They stumble and fall. The images we call “gods” are just as sinful and self-centered as we are. We see these gods and see only sex and power and a lusting after both. Again, not so different from us. And, as in the case of Baal at Mt. Carmel, we see nothing and hear nothing. “Perhaps he sleeps or is out taking a walk,” Elijah mocks. The prophet Isaiah mocks also. “Don’t you see that with wood you make an idol and with wood you build a fire to cook your meal? At least one of those things does something.” No wonder the Lord commands his people not to make graven images and idols. We stink at it.
But not God. God makes us an image, more than an image. And it’s nothing like we’d imagine. A child nurses at his mother’s breast. An infant lowly, yet, as the angels tell us, holy, cries out for food, warmth, a mother’s touch. A root from the stump of Jesse. A root out of dry ground, with no beauty and no majesty to attract us to him except the natural tractor-beam possessed by all infants. Yet, nothing great that we should do more than “ooo” and “ahh” and move on to the next beautiful Bethlehem baby.
Except the angels tell us, “He is Christ, the Lord!”
Except the prophets tell us that he is the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace, the payer of our sin-debt, our righteousness.
Except God tells us, “This is God.” Not just some image. Not just in your image and likeness. Not just something in the image and likeness of God, as God made Adam and Eve. This image is more than an image.
For Paul tells us that this Child is “in very nature God” and “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” and that Christ is “God over all, forever praised.”
For Hebrews tells us that he is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”
For John tells that the one he heard, the one he saw, the one he looked at and touched, that one is the Word become flesh.
For Matthew says that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.
And so our psalmist says tonight that we sing a new song, a fresh song, a never-before-sung song. Fitting, because nothing like this has ever happened before. Never before has the image matched the reality. But now it does. This image laid before us, this living-breathing thing does not represent a god. It is God. He is God. So the psalmist says, “For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.”
Any other “gods” so-called, whether idol or inclination are nothing before the child of Mary. Zeus gets us nowhere. Allah gets us nowhere. Money gets us nowhere. The state gets us nowhere. The Lord who made the heavens, he gets us somewhere. This is the never-before-sung song. All other gods demand gifts and offerings and sacrifice. This God says, “I am the gift, the offering, and the sacrifice.” So the psalmist gives us our new, fresh, striking song: “Proclaim from day to day his salvation.” His salvation. This comes from the Hebrew yeshua, found in the name Joshua, and in the New Testament: Jesus. Proclaim from day to day his Jesus.
Which only gets us anywhere when we see what’s happening here, when we see who Mary’s Son really is. Dr. Luther passionately described this in 1539: We Christians should know that if God is not in the scale to give it weight, we, on our side, sink to the ground. I mean it this way: if it cannot be said that God died for us, but only a man, we are lost; but if God’s death and a dead God lie in the balance, His side goes down and ours goes up like a light and empty scale. Yet He can also readily go up again, or leap out of the scale! But He could not sit on the scale unless He become a man like us, so that it could be called God’s dying, God’s martyrdom, God’s blood, and God’s death. For God in His own nature cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is called God’s death when the man dies who is one substance or one person with God.
This puts our Lord above all gods. Here in Mary’s arms is not only Mary’s Son, but Mary’s Lord. This image God doesn’t merely show to us, but gives us, and he is not just some epic teacher or politician or conscience of a nation, but that he is the Lord who reigns. Absent this, we have no comfort, as our own Lutheran confessions remind: When such majesty is denied to Christ according to His humanity, we regard it as a deadly error. For by this the very great consolation mentioned above is taken from Christians, which they have in the promise about the presence and dwelling with them of their Head, King, and High Priest. He has promised them that not only His mere divinity would be with them (which to us poor sinners is like a consuming fire on dry stubble). But Christ promised that He—He, the man who has spoken with them, who has experienced all tribulations in His received human nature, and who can therefore have sympathy with us, as with men and His brethren—He will be with us in all our troubles also according to the nature by which He is our brother and we are flesh of His flesh.
Here in Mary’s arms God keeps his promise. He comes among us to be with us. More, God with us is God for us, going to God bearing our image, our flesh, and bearing our sin, finishing what he started at the manger: giving the body and blood Mary gave him into death in exchange for God preserving our body and blood and declaring us to be, once again, in His image and His likeness. This is God’s salvation, that Jesus, who brings God to us in his holy sacrament as we taste God’s body and blood, by so doing brings us back to God. Amen.