The last place I expected graffiti was on the door of a church. Serving as a minister to a growing, suburban congregation afforded little time to oneself. Consequently, I would often withdraw to a room at the opposite end of the building. There I was free of most interruptions and distractions.
Not ostentatious but etched in the brown door at eye level were three words: GOD WAS HERE. Obviously an innocent gag, probably written by one of the creative teenagers with whom I worked. Admittedly, reading such a statement in a church does make one slightly uncomfortable.
A week later I returned to my place of quiet. I needed peace from the frustrations of a crowded day. I noticed that the graffiti had been tampered. Altering graffiti occurs on buildings and bridges, but in a church?! But there it was, not blatant, but changed. And better yet, my training confirmed, more theologically accurate. For someone had crossed out “was” and written above it “is”. In a quiet room the message of Christmas was proclaimed: GOD IS HERE.
It was the message that the angels announced, that the shepherds heard, that the wise men sought, that Herod feared, that the world did not even notice. It was the message that Mary cradled and that Joseph admired. It was the message wrapped in cloths. It was the little baby Jesus.
“God is here” is the message of Christmas.
Jesus, God’s one and only Son, became a man. He was God in a suit of flesh. He was the visible expression of the invisible deity. God was expressing Himself in a language that we could understand. God was identifying with the frailties and tragedies of the human race. God was getting up close and personal. God was announcing to the world: “I’m here!”
God became a man. The omnipotent, in one instant, made Himself breakable. He who had been spirit became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. And He who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.
The apostle John used one word to embody this revelation of God. Theologians may write long books to explain the doctrine of the incarnation of Jesus, but John epitomizes it in a single word — dwelt. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Eugene Peterson in The Message paraphrases this verse, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). Dwelt meant “to live in a tent”. Or as military folks would understand “to bivouac”. Or as theologians define “to tabernacle”. In the Old Testament this word dwelt and its derivatives literally denotes “residence”. Often the word was used to depict the glorious presence of God that resided in the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. So when Jesus became flesh and blood He moved into the neighborhood; He took up residence; He “tabernacled” among us.
Before Jesus was born, God visited His people performing mighty and miraculous works. God’s people would stack stones or build a monument or erect a synagogue in honor of God’s revelation. The physical erection of monuments and buildings was their way of saying, “God was here.” The power and presence of God had visited them in a place, and so in order not to forget they constructed a reminder. But when Jesus entered the world the verb tense changed from past to present — from “was” to “is”. Because of Jesus’ birth, because of the incarnation of God, because the Word became flesh, we now say: “God is here.” God is present in all of His splendor and glory. We don’t have to erect structures to remind us of God’s visited presence. God is already here.
“God is here” is more than a theological doctrine, it has practical implications. What does “God is here” mean to us?
Jesus became a man to show us God.
When Jesus became a man He showed that God was not merely a principle but a person. Jesus was not an idea of God, not a picture of God, but God Himself in human form.
Two young men on a battlefield in World War II made it to the safety of a foxhole in the midst of enemy fire. As they looked out before them across the battlefield they perceived the horror of dead and dying men, twisted barbed wire, the earth scarred with deep holes left by cannon fire. Men lifeless, others crying out for help. Finally one of the men cried: “Where in the world is God?” As they continued to watch and listen they soon noticed two medics, identified by the red cross on their arms and their helmets, carefully making their way across the perilous scene. As they watched, the medics stopped and began to load a wounded soldier onto their stretcher. Once loaded they began to work their way to safety. As the scene unfolded before them, the other soldier now boldly answered the honest, but piercing question of his friend, “There is God! There is God!”
When Jesus became a man He came to show us God. He came in the midst of the loneliness and the horror of a world gone mad. Yet in the chaos and confusion Jesus announced that God is here. Where in the world is God? God is here in Christ. Christ has come among us to show us who God is and what God is. Jesus shows us God in a way that we can understand. In a way that renews us. In a way that gives us hope.
Jesus became a man to feel our hurt.
In one act of becoming human He identified with our pain. The pain of loneliness, He felt it. The hurt of rejection, He felt it. The sadness of losing a loved one to death, He felt it. The scars of mental or physical abuse, He felt it.
When we suffer pain, we want others to understand. We want others to be like us so they can identify with us. We don’t want to be alone. We want others to feel our pain and our hurt. When Jesus became a man He understood us; He identified with us; He felt our pain, and He hurt.
Joseph Damien was a nineteenth‑century missionary who ministered to people with leprosy on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. Those suffering grew to love him and revered the sacrificial life he lived out before them.
One morning before Damien was to lead daily worship he was pouring some hot water into a cup when the water swirled out and fell onto his bare foot. It took him a moment to realize that he had not felt any sensation. Gripped by the sudden fear of what this could mean, he poured more hot water on the same spot. No feeling whatsoever. Damien immediately knew what had happened. As he walked tearfully to deliver his sermon, no one at first noticed the difference in his opening line. He normally began every sermon with, “My fellow believers.” But this morning he began with, “My fellow lepers.”
In a greater measure Jesus came into this world knowing what it would cost Him. He bore in His pure being the marks of evil, that we might be pure. He bore in His sinless soul the weight of sin, so that we could be forgiven. He bore in His manly frame the hurt and pain of injustice, that we might be understood.
God is here. He is here understanding our hurt, identifying with our pain. He feels. He hurts. He cries.
Jesus became a man so God becomes touchable, approachable and reachable. Often when we refer to God’s location we point upward or look toward the heavens. Most often we think of God as being up there, far removed from the cares and concerns of this created world. But because Jesus became a man God came down here, living in our midst. We could never reach Him up there, but in love He came down here to us. He became touchable, approachable and reachable.
Listen to what Max Lucado wrote, “‘Just call Me Jesus,’ you can almost hear Him say. He was the kind of fellow you’d invite to watch the Rams‑Giants game at your house. He’d wrestle on the floor with your kids, doze on your couch and cook steaks on your grill. He’d laugh at your jokes and tell a few of His own. And when you spoke, He’d listen to you as if He had all the time in eternity.”
Make no mistake about it, people loved being around Jesus. They came at night; they touched Him as He walked down the street; they followed Him around the sea; they invited Him into their homes and placed their children at His feet. Why? Because He refused to be a statue in a cathedral or a priest in an elevated pulpit. He chose instead to be Jesus. Deity dressed in humanity. God, here among us.
As you read the gospels there is not a hint of one person who was afraid to draw near Him. There was not one person who was reluctant to approach Him for fear of being rejected. Remember that. Remember that the next time you find yourself amazed at your own failures. Or the next time guilt burns holes in your stomach. Or the next time you see a cold church or hear a lifeless sermon. Remember that it is man who creates the distance. It is Jesus who builds the bridge.
I suspect that this Christmas you will receive many gifts — some you probably don’t need and others you could live without. But there is one present you can’t live without. The one present you need is the presence of Jesus Christ. The One who shows us God. The One who feels our hurt. The One who is touchable, approachable and reachable. The God that is here.
Rick Ezell is a pastor living in Greer, South Carolina