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"“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”" (Matthew 1:23, NIV)

[1]

 

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14, NIV)

[2]

"‘And I have sanctified the tent of meeting, and the altar, and Aaron and his sons I sanctify for being priests to Me, and I have tabernacled in the midst of the sons of Israel, and have become their God, and they have known that I am Jehovah their God, who hath brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I may tabernacle in their midst; I am Jehovah their God." (Exodus 29:44-46, YLT)

[3]

Christ’s Humble Birth

In his best-selling book, *The Jesus I Never Knew*, Philip Yancey contrasts the humility that characterized Jesus’ royal visit to planet earth with the prestigious image associated with world rulers today:

In London, looking toward the auditorium’s royal box where the queen and her family sat, I caught glimpses of the...way rulers stride through the world: with bodyguards, and a trumpet fanfare and a flourish of bright clothes and flashing jewelry.

Queen Elizabeth II had recently visited the United States and reporters delighted in spelling out the logistics involved: her four thousand pounds of luggage included two outfits for every occasion, a        mourning outfit in case someone died, forty pints of plasma, and white kid-leather toilet seat covers. She brought along her own hairdresser, two valets, and a host of other attendants. A brief visit of royalty to a foreign country can easily cost twenty million        dollars.

In meek contrast, God’s visit to earth took place in an animal shelter with no attendants present and nowhere to lay the newborn king but a feed trough.  Indeed, the event that divided history, and even our calendars, into two parts may have had more animal than human witnesses. A mule could have stepped on him.

Philip Yancey, *The Jesus I Never Knew* (Zondervan, 1995)

Do you remember the picture on the front page of the Gleaner this summer?  There were a number of people standing just outside the gate looking in with a mix of curiosity, admiration, perhaps jealousy as those more important or recognized or fortunate than they flashed an invitation and walked into the newly renovated home on Waterloo Row, the Old Government House?

It is sad that many people live their lives watching others and somehow wishing that they could enjoy life as they perceive others do.  But you couldn’t visit that night unless you were on the guest list.

When you moved into this city, what determined where you would live?  If you looked for an apartment you wanted something that was well kept.  The neighbors were important.  So was the price but you wanted as much as you could get for the money.  If you could have afforded to buy a home, you would have.  If you did, you were concerned about property values and resale.  And most likely you chose a place that would have cost you as much money as you could possible scrape together to cover your mortgage.  Perhaps you even over-extended yourself a bit for the home or the neighborhood.  Many people do that, it’s most likely normal, human. . . .

If God decided to move to Fredericton where do you suppose he would live?  Would there be walls and security guards?  After all who could be busier and more important? 

Who could justify the separation more than God, merely to protect himself from the overwhelming needs of people?

Who would have more right to be suspicious or cynical of the motives of people and how that His goodness might be abused or taken advantage of.  It’s just easier to wall people out and to invite the select few to come close.

Would there be a housewarming and if there was who would be invited?  Would the elite be the first or would the disadvantaged be there?  Would you miss this guest list as well because you don’t fit in either crowd?  Not “well-to-do” enough to be elite and proud enough to

God lives in Fredericton but many people don’t know that.  They don’t know his address or his phone number.  They are not aware that his presence is fully here.  He doesn’t visit seasonally.  He is here 24/7.

1.  The Spiritual Slums

Wherever God is, it’s nowhere near me.

Most of us don’t have a clue where God lives?  We’re not sure if he lives in our neighborhood or not.  There are those today who could never believe that he might because you see yourself as living in the spiritual slums.  God would quickly pass over your postal code because you just know that you are not good enough.  He’d never want to live next door to you.  And you’re not sure you’d want him to anyway because you don’t like the way that your home looks.  There are things inside that you don’t want him to see and you’d be crazy with fear that he might “drop by” unannounced.

2.  Self-Righteous Suburbia

Others of you know the place on your street that he would want to live in.  A brand new place, unsoiled and surrounded by homes that only good hard working, successful, community leaders might occupy.  After all there needs to be some separation.  You don’t want a tainted neighborhood.  You need a safe place for the kids and God knows that your kids are safe and respectable and well dressed.  Everything looks good and white and fresh – just the kind of place that God would choose to live.  Upright and out of sight.  Where else would God ever choose to live?  This is “Self-Righteous Suburbia” just far enough removed from the mainstream of life to forget about it and to isolate yourself from the problems that others face and to insulate yourself from the cold realities.

And when you really need to find God, where do you look?  Not in the spiritual slums.  He’s miles away you’re sure.  And you have no clue where to start.

Maybe you just trot next door to that new place – you’ve never been there before because you rarely need anything from the neighbors in Self-righteous Suburbia.  You’re all pretty much independent and generally busy.  But today you get the unleavened cakes together and go looking for God next door.  You’ve tried everything else and this is a last resort – to bother God.  You ring the bell, rap on the door until your knuckles are bare and bloody and the tea is cold and the cakes have developed mold.  God’s not home.  You’ve given him a wave offering everyday as you pull out of your driveway.  It’s the polite thing to do.  But as you look closer, there are no curtains in the window, no furniture in the living room and much to your surprise, you’re not sure He ever lived here.

People begin to seek God in times of need most earnestly.  We’ll do it all ourselves until we have nothing left.  Then we blame Him because we can’t find him.  The problem is that most people wouldn’t know God if he tap danced across their foreheads.

People who know God intimately, always know where to find Him.  They understand His direction and they understand his silence.  The know his presence and his absence doesn’t cause them to question His existence.  They know that God always comes home.

You see the scripture paints the picture of a God who “dwells among us”.  He doesn’t stand apart and passively watch us struggle with life.  He comes near.

Look at some of the pictures of God “among us”

Ø     In the fiery furnace.

"Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." (Daniel 3:24-25, KJV)

[4]

Ø     When he was lost at the temple.

"And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers." (Luke 2:46-47, KJV)

[5]

Ø     When he was crucified

"And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst." (John 19:17-18, KJV)

[6]

Ø     When he appeared to the disciples following his crucifixion

"And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread. And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you . But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit." (Luke 24:33-37, KJV)

[7]

"Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you ." (John 20:19, KJV)

[8]

"And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you ." (John 20:26, KJV)

[9]

Ø      In the midst of those gathered in His name.

"Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven . For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them ." (Matthew 18:19-20, KJV)

[10]

3.  The Storage Shed

What if he’s among us and we don’t know it?  Emmanuel.

What might God be doing among us that stands beyond our knowledge.  If watching God work is at times like watching your children grow then the progress might be difficult to recognize and yet there is dynamic life that is flowing there.

So where is He?  Not far, . . . among us actually.  We have a familiar scenario that plays out at the Ingersoll home.  It seems to happen in those frantic moments when it’s time to go to school or church or some other time sensitive event. 

“Where’s my coat?”

“It’s your coat, you ought a’ know.”

“It’s where you put it when you were done with it.  When you didn’t need it anymore you set it somewhere.  That’s where it is!”

“It’s where you took it off.”

Ever have those kinds of exchanges with the kids?

Struggling to find your faith when the crunch is on?  It’s where you took it off.  It’s where you stopped using it.  The less frequently you use something the more likely it is that you won’t be able to find it when you need it.

Ø      You see, we don’t practice our faith when we come to church, we practice it when we leave. 

Ø      You don’t practice your faith when you love people who love you, you practice it when you love people who don’t like you. 

Ø      You don’t practice your faith when you receive an apology from someone who has wronged you, you practice it when you forgive people without the apology and before they ask or if they never ask. 

Ø      You don’t practice your faith when you read the Bible, you practice it when you do what it says. 

Ø      You don’t practice your faith when you ask God for something, you practice it when you receive what you are given.

And if you’re not practicing, you can’t possibly perform, at least not well.

Where’s God and your faith?  He’s in the place that all things are that are not regularly used.  In the dusty bottom of a cluttered closet.  You’ll never find it there until some crisis causes you to clean your closets.  It’s in the baby barn or the storage shed, under the pile of boxes that represent seasonal things.  It’s where your skis are in August.  It’s where your bathing suit is in January.  It’s where your Bible is right now.  Not very far away but not readily accessible.

Same as God.  Where is he when life is cold, when you need comfort or understanding?  When you’ve been misjudged or persecuted or overlooked. 

He’s where he was when you put Him off the last time. 

He’s where he was the last time He asked you for something that you refused to give Him.  He’s where He was when you stopped forgiving a brother or sister.  Go back there, you’ll find Him waiting because He knows that sooner or later, you’ll have to come back looking for the faith that you left behind.

You see, He dwells “among us”.  He lost everything to find you.  You’ve never been hurt more than He has.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:2-11, NIV)

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Show me a pain or a scar that would rival Christ’s and I’ll tell you that you have hurt sufficiently to doubt God.

Tel me about the unjust ways that you have been treated or how the church has failed you and I’ll remind you that righteous people had Him crucified and that He forgave them as they were in the process of doing it.  I’ll tell you that he suffered their punishment already and the weight of their sins and your own crucified Him on Calvary.

The scripture says that He “became flesh and dwelt among us.”

He put on “flesh” so that He could encounter everything that you might ever encounter and more.

I believe God entered time and space to make a nonverbal statement. He didn't come to keep us from suffering; He came to suffer as we must suffer. He didn't come just to keep us from being afraid; He came to be afraid as we are afraid. He didn't come just to keep us from dying; He came to die as we must die. He didn't come to keep us from being tempted; He came to be tempted as we are tempted.

n      Stephen Brown, If God Is In Charge..., p. 26.

“But He was God!” , you might say.  All the more reason to stand apart from us.  To remind us that most of the time we deserve what we get.

And besides, if He had it so easy, being God and all, which of us would trade places with Him.  Which of us would endure the cross?  I’m not sure that any of us would trade places with God although there are many times when we talk as though we could do a better, more just job.

You don’t have to go on a nation or worldwide search to find God, just go back to the place where you stopped practicing.

Where is He?

Ø     He is near those who trust Him

5 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.”  b 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’  c ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’  d ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”  e that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  f 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  g [12]

Ø     He is near to those who wait with a teachable spirit.

"Cause me to tread in Thy truth, and teach me, For Thou art the God of my salvation, Near Thee I have waited all the day." (Psalm 25:5, YLT)

[13]

Ø     He is near to those who will rely on Him for deliverance.

"Deliver me from mine enemies, O Jehovah, Near Thee I am covered." (Psalm 143:9, YLT)

[14]

Cradle to Cross

by Zia Hawkes

How surely, inexorably,

The two events are linked as one-

A luminously brilliant star-

A cruel sun.

Above a cave a blazing light-

Above a cross a darkening sky-

An eager child- a weary man

Stretched out to die.

An innocently tender smile-

A little hand that waves and flails-

And gentle hands so sorely ripped

By savage nails.

A coverlet of softest wool

For such as He-

A purple robe now cast aside-

Below the tree.

And could the cradle lead to this

Appalling, ignominious end,

Alone despised and cast outside

With scarce a friend?

Ah yes, the cradle led to this,

For there beneath the cross I see

With shame, the filthy rags of my

Iniquity.

"Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, to the oppressing city! She obeyed not the voice; she received not correction; she trusted not in the LORD; she drew not near to her God. Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow. Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law. The just LORD is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame. I have cut off the nations: their towers are desolate; I made their streets waste, that none passeth by: their cities are destroyed, so that there is no man, that there is none inhabitant. I said, Surely thou wilt fear me, thou wilt receive instruction; so their dwelling should not be cut off, howsoever I punished them: but they rose early, and corrupted all their doings. Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering. In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein thou hast transgressed against me: for then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and thou shalt no more be haughty because of my holy mountain. I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD. The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid. Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. The LORD hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the LORD, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack. The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing. I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden. Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame. At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the LORD." (Zephaniah 3:1-20, KJV)

[15]


----

[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3] Young's literal translation. 1997 (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

[4] The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[5] The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[6] The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[7] The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[8] The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[9] The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[10] The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[11] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

 b Lev. 18:5

 c Deut. 30:12

 d Deut. 30:13

 e Deut. 30:14

 f Isaiah 28:16

 g Joel 2:32

[12]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Ro 10:5-13). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[13] Young's literal translation. 1997 (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

[14] Young's literal translation. 1997 (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.

[15] The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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