How the miracle of Christmas answers our deepest questions

I first heard “One of Us” while driving with the radio on quite some years ago. I was astonished. The song was raw, plaintive, powerful. I couldn’t get it out of my head for days even though I had no idea who sang it or what the title was. It was ages before I tracked it down and heard it again. (This was well before the days of YouTube and Shazam!)

If God had a face, what would it look like … (“One of Us” Joan Osborne, 1995)

The singer wonders about God; tries to imagine God in a human life. God is presupposed but unknown, distant, perhaps unknowable; unbelievable really.

“Yeah, yeah, God is great; yeah, yeah, God is good.” Sounds orthodox, but what the heck? I am totally alone. Nobody calls on the phone.

Does God know? Does God care? Does God see?

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home
Back up to heaven all alone, nobody calling on the phone…

The miracle of Christmas is an answer to these beautiful questions.

In this baby we catch a glimpse — and more than a glimpse — of God.

Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus. But though Jesus was born as a real person in the normal way, Christians believe that Jesus is more than merely human. His uniqueness began with what Christians call ‘the Virgin Birth’ but which really refers to a virginal conception. Imagine the teenage Mary trying to explain that to her father! They knew back then, just as we do now, where babies come from.

To believe in the Virgin Birth is to believe a miracle. The miracle distinguishes Jesus from every other human. It is an act of creation — new creation — in the womb of a teenage girl. It is something completely new, unexpected and undeserved. It is the birth of a new hope, in this Child, for a new world. But even more is going on. As Karl Barth has said, the miracle of Christmas points more deeply to the mystery of the incarnation, of the Word-assuming-flesh, of God becoming human, becoming ‘one of us.’

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. … The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14)

If you want to know what God is like, look at the human life of Jesus where he shows us his face and his heart.

In this baby who was born and grew up, in this truly human life, we catch a glimpse — and more than a glimpse — of God. God has a face, a human face. God has become one of us. And because of it, he does know what it is we experience, he does see, feel, and care.

In the story of Jesus’ birth given in Matthew’s gospel (Matt 1-2) we gain a sense of the significance of this miracle, through the names given to Jesus. When Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant — not by him — he is instructed by an angel in a dream to take Mary – and her child – as his own, and to name the child ‘Jesus’ (the Greek form of the Hebrew name ‘Joshua’ which means, ‘the Lord saves’): “because he shall save his people from their sins” (1:21).

Matthew tells us that Jesus’ miraculous birth fulfils ancient prophecy: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’.” (1:23). Matthew also tells us that although he was named ‘Jesus’, he was also called ‘Christ’ (1:16). In chapter two verse six he is referred to as Israel’s ‘Shepherd’. In verse fifteen as God’s ‘Son’. And in 2:2 he was named by foreign visitors as ‘king of the Jews’ — a name confirmed at his crucifixion by the written charge placed above him (27:37).

The wonder of Christmas is that this child, this Jesus, is God with us, God come to us, doing for us in an act of new creation what humanity was unable to do for itself: God coming to bring salvation, forgiveness from our sins, a new beginning, a new hope. God coming to show us his face. God coming to show us that he hears, he sees, he cares, he understands. God coming so we would no longer be alone. God drawing near to us in order to draw us near to himself. God not only with us but also for us, sharing the burden our life and existence, ultimately taking upon himself our waywardness, brokenness, sinfulness, and alienation — in order to lift it from us.

If you want to know what a truly human life looks like, look at the human life of Jesus, where we see the Image of God displayed in all its fullness.

The miracle of Christmas, the miracle of new creation in the womb of Mary, points forward to the miracle of new creation in the lives of those who will come to Jesus who saves them from their sin. A new beginning is not only possible but offered to us.

If you want to know what God is like, look at the human life of Jesus where he shows us his face and his heart: gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and quick to show mercy. Further, if you want to know what a truly human life looks like, look at the human life of Jesus, where we see the Image of God displayed in all its fullness. Listen also to his teaching which is indeed the ‘Word of God’ to us and for us.

We also find our hope in this miracle of Christmas. The world in which this child was born was not some problem-free idyll. On the contrary, it was a world of despicable and horrifying cruelty, despair, danger, and lament (Matt 2). It was a world in which reprehensible leaders slaughtered Jewish babies for their own political purposes; a world were families fled and mothers wept and the cycle and reality of violence seemed unending. In the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (2:1-2) The one born king will also one day return as King (25:31, 34), establishing his kingdom in place of the hated Herods of this world, wherever they are found.

Until that day, we live the miracle of Christmas, receiving the forgiveness and the hope that Jesus has brought us, and learning to live as he did, obeying his commandments and teaching (Matt 28:19), and learning from him how to extend God’s friendship to others around us, being with and for them as he was and is for us.

If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you want to see, if seeing meant that you would have to believe
in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets?

My answer: Yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah.

Michael O’Neil is Dean of Morling College.

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