A small boy was put to bed for the night. A few minutes later he began to call for his mother. When she came into the room, he told her that he was afraid in the dark. He wanted her to stay with him. She said, “But God is with you, son.” The little fellow said, “I know he is, Mother. But I need somebody here with skin on.”
Christmas is the story of God putting on skin and coming to be with us. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Jesus, who is fully God, suddenly became fully man. He “moved into the neighborhood” (“The Message”) and then sacrificed his life to save all who would believe. No other faith system in the history of the world entails a plot like this.
To imagine Allah, the God of Islam, becoming human would be preposterous to a Muslim. Brahman, the Absolute God of Hinduism, is considered largely unknowable. Buddha, sitting silently with folded arms, never claimed to be God. The Jehovah of Jehovah’s Witnesses never became a man. The Jesus of Mormonism was not always God. Christian Science holds that Jesus was never God. The god of Wicca has no personality.
In contrast to all of this, Christianity teaches that 2,000 years ago, God came near as one of us.
In the words of Max Lucado:
“The omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. Angels watched as Mary changed God’s diaper. He was, while completely divine, completely human. For thirty-three years he would feel everything you and I have ever felt. He felt weak. He grew weary. He got colds, burped, and had body odor. His feelings got hurt. His feet got tired. And his head ached.”
Lucado continues: “To think of Jesus in such a light … seems almost irreverent, doesn’t it? It is much easier to keep the humanity out of the incarnation. Clean the manure from around the manger. Pretend he never snored or blew his nose or hit his thumb with a hammer. There is something about keeping him divine that keeps him distant, packaged, predictable. But don’t do it. For heaven’s sake, don’t. Let him be as human as he intended to be. Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out.” (Excerpted from “God Came Near: Chronicles of the Christ,” 1987 Multnomah Press, by Max Lucado)
Twenty-five years ago today, I was lying flat on my back at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. I was a victim of Guillain-Barré syndrome, completely paralyzed, unable to move my arms, legs, toes or fingers. I was unable to speak. I was unable to swallow. I couldn’t breathe without help from a respirator. I was fully alert mentally. But my mind was trapped in a body that wouldn’t work.
I often needed to scratch or stretch, but couldn’t. I wanted to sit up, but couldn’t. I wanted to get up. I wanted to race through the place. I wanted to scream. I even wanted to die at times. I asked them to turn off the respirator. They wouldn’t do that.
I was in the hospital for eight months. At times, I disassociated from reality. I acted out of character. I lapsed physically and emotionally. But through it all, I had a wife, three sons, parents, friends, and a medical team who cared for me and stuck with me.
I was reading recently through sections of a diary that my mother kept during those dark days. So many people had prayed, fasted and sacrificed for me. I often didn’t even know it at the time. But looking back, it’s what pulled me through.
In much the same way, those who trust in the God of the Bible enjoy a similar benefit. Even when we don’t realize it, he’s with us. He holds us and keeps us. Through even the most lonely, painful passages of life, he says: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He is near. He is knowable.
At one point in his life, C.S. Lewis doubted that anyone could ever really know his creator. After all, could Hamlet know Shakespeare? Then it occurred to him that Shakespeare could write himself into the play and thereby introduce himself to Hamlet. Suddenly it dawned upon him — that is precisely what Almighty God did in the incarnation.
Merry Christmas, world. His name is Immanuel: God with us. (Isaiah 7:14)
The Rev. Daryl E. Witmer is founder and director of the AIIA Institute, a national apologetics ministry, and pastor emeritus at the Monson Community Church. He may be reached at AIIAInstitute.org or by e-mail at AIIAInstitute@aol.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.