O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.
Have you ever heard of a pamphlet called The Four Spiritual Laws? I think it was written in 1965 by the folks at Campus Crusade for Christ (which is now, evidently, just called “Cru“) and it is still one of the most popular tools of “Street Evangelism”. It lists the four most-basic premises of the Christian Message:
- God loves us
- We’re a mess
- God sent us Jesus
- We’re supposed to do something in response
Although it’s boiled down so much as to be meaningless, it has brought thousands (if not millions) of folks into the discussion about Jesus. I think the steps are correct as far as they go: there’s at least a year of teaching that can go into each point. The Church’s 2,000-year history would agree with each point and could weave a tale as long as the 2,000 years and longer to tell the four stories and after you have spent all 8,000 years hearing the stories, you’d still only be walking along the periphery.
The real story of the Gospel is that deep: you dive in and it just keeps going. That’s why today’s verse is so very important. God With Us. See: God is evangelizing us.
This babe in a manger, this infant on his mother’s lap, this child needs to have his diapers changed, and feeds at his mother’s breast is the Lord and Creator of the Universe who has come to be one of us that we may go to be with him. God has become man that man might become God.
In the ancient understanding of the economy of salvation, all of humanity fell in Adam and Eve’s failure in the garden. It’s not a question of culpability: but of simple, spiritual genetics. Our parents cannot pass on to us anything that they are not. They cannot pass on to us the intimate connection with God which they had before the fall because they no longer enjoy that. We cannot “recover” it since we never had it. We wouldn’t know it if it bit us in the backside, as the saying goes.
But God has entered into human history, a slob like one of us, trying to make his way home. And it’s not that he had to do this to understand us, but rather, so we could understand him.
The titles offered to Jesus in this verse all belong to Caesar: God, King, Lawgiver, Savior, Lord. The Church sees in this baby all the things that Augustus (along with Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, etc) wanted the world to see in him. And we should rightly acclaim him as such. But God with us means so much more: for what we have is a God who is like us in every way except sin.
That does not mean that God knows what it feels like to [fill in the blank] because feeling is not important. And someone might be happy at [fill in the blank] or have any other number of emotions. What it does mean is that anything a human does (save sin), God has done. These acts become divine actions, sacraments in which we can participate. God has fed at his mother’s breast. God has cried in the night and woke up his parents. God has been alone in the dark. God has woke up from nightmares. God had favorite foods (and was probably convinced that his own mother’s hummus was better than anyone else’s). God has gone to the bathroom, and as a toddler probably did that right on the street. This God has gone swimming with friends.
This God has washed dishes for his mother. This God has helped his father at work. This God has learned a trade. This God has said his prayers. When we do these things, we are following in God’s footsteps. We can – if we wish – do each of these things and so many more in memory of him.
God did not need to do any of these things to give him sympathy for us. If that were the case, then God failed, for does he know what it’s like to work on the internet or to have indoor plumbing? No. Does he know what it’s like to be a woman? Or an ethnic minority? No. So if it were a case of simply a God who understands us he no longer does. God redrew the map: so that each of these human actions is sacramentalized in his doing of them. God has even shown us that resisting temptation leads us to holiness.
God does not need to learn about us: rather, we need to learn about him. And God-with-us has made that very easy indeed. He has drawn us into the discussion. God has evangelized us.