Late last night I officially finished my Church history class for the semester. It’s a great feeling being done with any class, even good ones. This semester has been difficult for me because, while I have deep hope for the church and what she could be, it’s hard to read about poor decisions made thousands of years ago that still impact us today. All while considering that the decisions we make today could have long term affects as well.
A little talked about fact from the World Wars is wardrobe. Probably because there are much more dramatic examples of cruelty or bravery that we can look at. But beneath the rubble and the destruction there was an idea. One that was put on the belt buckles of German Soldiers.
The idea was simply: “Gott Mit Uns” or God with us.
I know a lady who goes to our church who grew up in Nazi Germany. She has stories that are mesmerizing…Her father, at great personal risk, continually told his kids an alternative story to the one that Hitler was spinning. She tells about sitting hunched up in the living room corner listening to the bombs of the allies falling all around them. All while their dad was telling them that God was, in fact, not with the Nazi’s but with their little family.
And that is a lot like the story of Christmas.
There is a danger that being a couple of thousand years away from the story that we can forget how dangerous it really was. But there is a reason that the Angel told Joseph to flee to Egypt right after Jesus was born. Joseph goes from being a simple, pious carpenter to being the Jack Bauer of the New Testament. Because Herod had heard that somebody was saying that there was another king in town.
That God was with someone else.
And so Herod starts an infanticide, just to weed out any threats to his claim to power. Because he knows the danger of that kind of statement. He had been using it for decades. I don’t know of many world rulers, who haven’t used God in one form or another to accomplish either great good or great evil. Even the Stalin’s of the world used religion, just replacing God’s name with their own.
But here is the irony of Immanuel. Because the story of God With Us isn’t always good news. There is an edge of judgement to it as well. Think of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6. He’s explaining to people why they should avoid sexual immorality, and his main point is that God is with you, so you shouldn’t act like that anymore.
That’s a huge statement, and for more than just sex. It means that if God is with us than there are all kinds of implications for what kind of people we should be. From the Crusades cry of “God Wills It” on we’ve had the temptation to take our agenda and use God’s name to approve it.
But this is not the story of Bethlehem.
Go back and read Luke 1 and 2 this week. Notice the different reactions to the announcement that God is with Us. There is real sense in which that kind of announcement disturbs the comfortable and comforts the disturbed. The Hitler’s and Herod’s of the world may try to use God to expand their petty kingdoms. They may exploit and abuse the little people because their power grows unchecked.
But beware of families huddled on the floor, or teenage girls with a baby in their belly.
Because who God is actually with is the surprise.
And that’s Christmas.