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Mrs. Adeline LaRoux would often speed excessively as she drove between New Orleans and Lafayette, but it wasn’t until she was 95 years old that she got stopped for speeding for the first time. A Louisiana State Trooper stopped her doing 87 in a 75. The Trooper was a bit shocked to see her age, but even more so when he noticed that she held a concealed weapon carry permit. He asked her, “Got any guns with you today, Ma’am?” She answered, “Yes, Sir. I have a 45 Smith & Wesson in the glove compartment.” “Is that so,” he asked with a smile, “any other.” “Well, since you asked, I’ve got a 357 Magnum in the console and a 38-Special in my purse.” Shaking his head, the trooper said, “Mrs. LaRoux, what are you scared of?” Turning slightly in her seat and looking up at him sweetly, she replied, “Why, not a dang thing!”
There are all sorts of interesting folks in this world. Not all, but most are worth meeting. They have great stories, interesting adventures, some make you laugh, and others warm your heart. There are folks who are quick to lend a hand or an ear and still others that would give you the shirt off their backs if you were in need, and there are a few grandmothers who pack a little bit more than Juicy Fruit Gum in their purses; but in all your dealings with the world—meeting those that cross your path—have you ever come across Jesus? Ever caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of your eye or saw him in on a crowded street, only to lose him around the next corner? Would you like to come face-to-face with Him? Not everyone wants to, but if you do, then why?
We are told in John’s Gospel, “Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’” Why did they want to see him? People have always wanted to see Jesus, to talk to him, ask questions, but mostly it was—and still is—to see what he can do. And not only what He can do, but what He can do for them. It seems that so often people want to see Jesus, to have contact with him, not for who he is, but instead they want to see him for what he can do for them.
I remember Herod’s Song from Jesus Christ Superstar:
Jesus, I am overjoyed to meet you face to face.
You’ve been getting quite a name all around the place.
Healing cripples, raising from the dead.
And now I understand you’re God,
At least, that’s what you’ve said.
So, you are the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re divine; change my water into wine…
So, you are the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re no fool; walk across my swimming pool.
The fact that folks were always wanting something from him was no big secret to Jesus either. He knew why most of the people were coming after him. After the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus went to the other side of the lake and they searched him out: “When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.’” You looked for me not because of who I am, but for what I can do for you.
Now if I were to meet Jesus I would not be so trivial as to ask him to turn water into wine. No. We would have some great theological discussion on the real presence in the Eucharist, the Holy Trinity, atonement theories, and the likes. We would spend hours together in silent contemplative prayer, writing new Psalms, and accurately translating the original Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible. Who am I kidding – I would probably ask him what the winning numbers of the Powerball Lottery were going to be and why do dogs eat grass.
I still contend that when we read the Bible we are all pretty much like the Pharisee in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple. They were both praying, and the Pharisee says, “I’m so glad I’m not like that poor schmuck,” and the poor schmuck says, “I’m not worthy.” We think we would never act like those individuals in the Bible: the people clamoring around for healings, food, miracles. We say with the Pharisee, I’m glad I’m not like them, but in truth… we are. We sometimes do the same things. We want him around for the tricks. If there is a God, then let him do something about all the wars, cancer, divorce, terrorism, the Oklahoma state budget? Why does he allow the pedophiles to roam the streets and the children to die of starvation? Why won’t he do something about all this? And that’s just the world around us, what about me? I could use a better job. Heck, I could use a job. Heal me. Feed me. Give me just one thing I ask for.
The Incarnation of God—God becoming man—has a Name, and that Name is Immanuel. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Immanuel—God with us—not God with us to do all the stuff we ask Him to do. If God appeared to you while you were standing in front of the lottery machine, told you to enter the numbers to win, and you ended up winning umpteen million dollars, would you love Him more? Or would you go about the business of spending umpteen million dollars? If God fed you breakfast, would you go away satisfied with a thankful heart or would you be trying to figure out where he would be serving lunch? If God saved you in the face of imminent death, would you—for the rest of your life—would you spend more time in prayer and study of His Holy Word or would you say, “Phew! That was a close one,” and go about your business?
Jesus was born in a stable, not with umpteen million dollars stuffed in a mattress, but straw that may or may not have been completely sanitary. Jesus spent forty days and nights in the desert with no food, not being handed everything on a silver platter, and being tempted by the devil. Jesus faced imminent death and died upon the cross at the age of thirty-three and no one saved him. These things tell us that the Incarnation is not about God paving the paths we walk in gold.
So, if we say that the Incarnation is not about God becoming man so that he can give us what we want, then why? The Incarnation, God becoming Man, Immanuel, is God with us “always, even unto the end of the age.” It is God with us in our poverty—poverty of flesh and poverty of spirit. It is God with us nourishing our souls with His Body and Blood even when our stomachs may rumble with hunger. It is God with us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and come out on the other side in His glorious Kingdom. St. Paul writes, “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners,” so that we might be with him eternally and so that we might be like him; or as St. Athanasius writes, God “became what we are, so that we might become what He is.”
Imagine, every time you took a picture of yourself—a selfie—duck lips, tongue out, whatever… but every time you took a selfie, you got a picture of Jesus instead. Imagine someone takes a picture of you with your family or friends and when the picture is developed, all your family and friends are there, but where you were standing or sitting is Jesus.
Last week we said that the Incarnation is a mystery, but it is God becoming man so that he might wrap his arms of love around you and hold you to Himself. To that we add, the Incarnation is God becoming man, not to give us all we ask for and think we need, but so that we might become what He is.
There are all sorts of interesting people in this world and God desires to be incarnated in each of them. He desires to be born in you, so that he may be one with you—He in us and we in Him.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” Amen.