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SEEING GOD - by Ted Schroder

SEEING GOD

Ted Schroder
Christmas Day, 2005

"No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." (John 1:18)

Christmas answers the question: "What is God like?" Until Christ came, every description of God, was approximate, fallible, partial. Those who have accepted Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, believe that he made God known in his person. We believe that God is like Jesus Christ. We think of God as we see him in Jesus. For the Christian, it is Jesus who provides us with the basis of the most reliable knowledge of God available.

Jesus is a window into God. He is the light of God who has come into the world to illuminate it, and who lets us see God. Through Christ coming in human form, God is suddenly made available for us in a new way. Many of us know what it is like to get up early in the morning, stepping out of bed into a dark room - when we open the curtains, the room is suddenly flooded with light and the outside world beckons to us. The same sense of excitement, like a dark room flooded with light, or a beautiful landscape opening up before our eyes, can perhaps be felt when reading the prologue to the fourth Gospel (John 1:1-18)

Those who dismiss the claims of Christ to be the Word made flesh, do so because they seem inconsistent with their understanding of God. Their God would not come in such a way, limiting himself to one human being, in one place, in one era of history. To them, the claims of Christ seem absurd, ridiculous and to be rejected. These critics seems to know exactly what God is like, and on the basis of their idea of God, they reject the coming of Jesus. But on what basis do they establish their idea of God? What source of knowledge do they possess which is denied to everyone else, and which is more reliable than the knowledge of God to be had in Jesus Christ?

All too often, criticisms of the claims of Christ boil down to the simple, and not very significant statement, that someone, somewhere, has an idea of God which is inconsistent with the idea of the incarnation. But so what? Unless he can prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, that God is really like that, his criticism is not important. And the simple fact is that humanity has been unable to reach much in the way of agreement on what God is like.

For the Christian, God is to be known and seen most reliably as we encounter him in Jesus Christ. That is the Christian view of God. It may be inconsistent with somebody else's view of God - but that doesn't entitle them to say that the Christian view of God, expressed in Jesus, is wrong. All statements about God are ultimately a matter of faith (even those of the atheist), and the most that this critic can do is register his disagreement with the Christian viewpoint. To do more is to go far beyond the limited evidence available at his disposal.

God may be known in various ways, and to various degrees, through other revelations - God can speak to people wherever and however he chooses, and he has done so in all races and times. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the closest encounter with God to be had in this life. We believe that God makes himself available for our acceptance or rejection in the figure of Jesus Christ. To have encountered Jesus is to have encountered God.

St. Paul refers to Jesus as the 'image of the invisible God' (Colossians 1:15). In the letter to the Hebrews, we find Jesus described as the 'stamp' of God's nature (Hebrews 1:3) - the word could refer to an image stamped on a coin, conveying the idea of an exact likeness.

What sorts of things does the incarnation tell us about God? It tells us that the God with whom we are dealing is no distant ruler who remains aloof from the affairs of his creatures, but one who is passionately concerned with them to the extent that he takes the initiative in coming to them. God doesn't just reveal things about himself - he reveals himself in Jesus Christ. Revelation is personal. It is not given in a series of propositions, a list of statements which we are meant to accept, but in a person. It is to Christ, and not to the creed, that the world must look for redemption. Christianity has always insisted that man can know - not just know about - God. God does not encounter us as an idea, but as a person.

For someone to be known means that they want to be known - there must be a willingness of their part, to let us know them. But God goes further than this. He takes the initiative in approaching us, in disclosing to us that he wants us to know him. God reveals himself to us, and by revealing himself, discloses his love for us and his desire to enter into a relationship with us.

The incarnation speaks to us of a God who acts to demonstrate his love for us. Kierkegaard tells the story of the king who loved a peasant girl and wished to court her and make her his consort. There were two strategies he could employ. He could elevate the girl to his own level, or else descend to her level. He could show himself to her in all the pomp of his power, causing the sun of his presence to rise over her cottage, shedding a glory over the scene, and making her forget herself in worshipful admiration. This might have satisfied the girl, but it could not satisfy the king. How could he know whether she loved him for himself or for his glory, and her elevation to the throne? The king wants the girl to love him, not for his power and riches, but for himself. If the courtship could not be accomplished through her being dazzled with his splendor, then another way had to be found. The king comes to the peasant girl in disguise, hoping she will learn to love him apart from the distractions of wealth and power. The king had to disguise himself as a humble servant, so that he would be her equal. He must authentically share her human condition, suffer with her, endure all things with her, so that she would respond to his love without coercion, and her love would then be genuine.

This is what God has done in Jesus at Christmas time. He has come amongst us in disguise, so that we will love him for who he is and what he has done, i.e. by faith, rather than by submission to his power, or being overcome by his glory. God wants to be loved for his character, his nature, his love, not by compelling us to believe by overwhelming us with his heavenly glory. The difficulty is that there is a real risk that God will not be recognized, just as the king opens himself up to the possibility of rejection by coming as a peasant himself. But there is no way to avoid this possibility if a real relationship of love is to be established.

Charles Wesley expressed the wonder of the Incarnation in the words of two of his most famous hymns.

"Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th' incarnate Deity,

Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel."

"Love divine, all loves excelling, Joy of heaven to earth come down;

Fix in us Thy humble dwelling, All Thy faithful mercies crown."

(Much of the material for this sermon came from Understanding Jesus, Alister E. McGrath, pp. 110-113.)

An audio version of this sermon may be found on www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel
Amelia Island, Florida

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