King David was, as usual, in trouble. Somebody or something was after him. Swords, spears, poison, royal duplicity. Or doubts and devils of the internal kind. Not so different from me, or you I suspect. On any given day we need God now and in force.
“Part your heavens, Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, so that they smoke. Send forth lightning and scatter the enemy,” David prayed. (Psalm 144:5-6)
How often have you felt like that? God, come down!
Christmas is an answer to that prayer.
Because no matter how many flashing lights we string and drums we bang, in the birth of Christ there were no smoking mountains and lightning bolts.
That’s not to say Jesus’ birth was not marked by the monumental. There hung a star, sung an angel choir. Those, however, were mere messengers. The birth itself was the miracle.
I remember the births of my children. Each was profound and transformational. With each I stood trembling as if thunder had crashed, wondering at the miracle of being a part of God’s creation.
Thirty some-odd years later, I put the two stories together, the birth of Jesus and the birth of my children. God came down like this?
There was no thunder and lightning, outside my overwhelmed heart. They were beautiful, red and wrinkled and pointy-headed. They looked old, as if they’d travelled from eternity. They were fragile and tiny, skin translucent, as near death as life. Vulnerable. Needy.
There’s a modern painting of Joseph and Mary after the birth of Jesus. It is so real and earthy. Dirt and stone but no smoke and lightning. The parents slouch on the ground, leaning against a rock wall with sandaled feet forward. Their eyes are closed in tired disbelief. Mary, slumped on Joseph’s shoulder, holds Jesus, swaddled, fragile, just like my children: vulnerable, needy.
The Lord came down, answering our many prayers, but in the most unpretentious, unpredicted, unexpected way.
Why? Why not come as David prayed?
The answer, in part, is at the heart of the Incarnation.
In coming, my children did not claim my allegiance through show of force, but captured it with a smile or cry. They did not force me to kneel down to change their diapers or raspberry their bare tummies, but I knelt to serve, love, and be near them. They did not demand service and sacrifice, they needed it and I found my greatest joy in making sure they were dry and safe and well fed. I served them gladly. They did not demand love but they grew it in me and drew it from me.
This is why Jesus came not with thunder and lightning but with dimples and folds.
This is why he came a mere six pounds and nineteen inches rather than six-foot four two-fifty.
The God who needs nothing, especially our puny selves, came down as a needy babe so we could bow down, love, serve, and draw near.
As Frederich Buechner writes, “The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: ‘God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . who for us and for our salvation,’ as the Nicene Creed puts it, ‘came down from heaven.’”
Yes, we should cover our eyes and shudder as if lightning struck. And sometimes I do. But Omnipotence joined in impotence so that we need not run and hide. We desire nothing less than a mountain shaking miracle for all to see. But what we needed was altogether different. We needed the miracle of God come down to be with us so that as he grew so would our love for him.
And one more miracle. God did not come down only that angel announced day. He does it now and forever. “I will be with you till the end of the age.” May this Christmas be the beginning or renewal of your journey with God. After all, he came down in answer to your prayer.