The True Glory of Christmas: God With Us

© Marcelo A. Tolopilo

The Lord coming down to His people, to manifest Himself to them, to abide with them and save them is essentially the message of Christmas. It is a message and reality we anticipate with eagerness and joy. This is true for us in the church, and yet in the ages before Christmas the prospect of a divine visitation often proved more daunting to believers than welcoming. Consider the following snapshots of God’s “visitations” as you prepare your heart to celebrate the wondrous glory of Christmas.

God visits Abram

When the Lord came down and ratified His covenant with Abram He appeared as a smoking furnace and a flaming torch (Genesis 15:12, 17). Not exactly a vision that beckons the heart to draw near in sweet affirmation. If anything heat, fire, and smoke capture our attention but beckon us to keep our distance. In fact, while God’s covenant with Abram promised great blessing to him, his descendants, and the world, the tone of this divine visitation was serious and filled with a sense of foreboding for the father of the future nation. We learn from Genesis 15:12 that “Terror and darkness” fell upon the patriarch.

“Behold, I will come down to you …”

Such was the promise of God to His people in the desert of Sinai (Exodus 19:9). Shortly after this oath, on the third day, God actually descended upon Mount Sinai and revealed Himself in a fantastic spectacle of power. When the Lord came, He did not alight on the mountain in a gentle mist upon the soft songs of melodic harps. No! He came down with fire, smoke, a violent earthquake, and the sound of an increasingly loud and blaring trumpet followed by great peals of thunder. The people perceiving the great presence of God with them felt overwhelmed and fearfully kept their distance. In Exodus 20:18 we read, “All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance.” They begged Moses to be their representative before the Lord for fear the very presence of God would consume them, “Then they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.’ ” (Exodus 20:19). God’s visitation was as imposing as it was magnificent!

God in the great pillars

When the Lord flexed His mighty arm and led the sons of Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness He came down to visually lead them. This time He made Himself manifest in a great pillar of cloud by day and an awesome pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). Simply consider one of these theophanies, the night time beacon of God’s presence with Israel in the pillar of fire. Can you imagine the great pillar of fire in your minds eye? Think of the brilliant red, orange, and yellow incandescence of the towering pillar against the black night of the Sinai. Could the Israelites feel the heat and hear the roar of the divine conflagration? It must have been an awe-inspiring and breathtaking sight to be sure, but formidable and forbidding as well.

The present, yet veiled glory of God

The Lord also came to the Israelites when His glory filled the tabernacle in the desert and later the Temple which Solomon built (Exodus 40:34, 35, 2 Chronicles 5:13,14). At those times God’s presence filled the the Holy of Holies. Amazingly, the Lord came to dwell with His people, but the cloud of His glory was so great it prevented the Israelites from drawing near. Even Moses (in the desert) and the priests (at the Temple dedication) could not come near because the awesome glory of the Lord was unapproachable. Only one man (the High Priest) could enter the place of God’s glorious presence, and that but once a year on the day of atonement (Yom Kippur) to atone for his sin and the sin of the people.

God’s visitation in former ages was, well, it was a frightening prospect. Note the use and repetition of terms in the passages we have just referenced, terms such as “cloud, smoke, fire, earthquake, lightning, trembling, terror, die!” God’s presence was awesome yet largely inaccessible.

“Immanuel … God with us” (Matthew 1:23)

Contrast the above visitations with Christ’s advent on that first Noel. At Christmas, God came down to His people as Immanuel, “God … with us” (Matthew 1:23), as one of us, to abide with us. He did not descend in fire, smoke, with flashes of lightening and peals of thunder. Instead God came to us as a humble and frail little baby.

Babies are many things, but one thing they are not is intimidating. When a baby is carried into a room full of people what happens? People are intrinsically drawn to the little one in wonder and tender affection. God came to us at Christmas as a baby (the God-Man) to draw men to Himself. He came to be our Savior (Luke 2:11, Romans 5:8-10), Advocate (Romans 8:34, 1 John 2:1-2), Friend (John 15:13-15), Brother (Hebrews 2:11), and ultimately to bring the God-Head to dwell in us: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (John 14:17, 23)!

God, the glory of whom our forefathers could scarcely look upon, has come to us, to be with us, to live within us. How amazing is that? That is the glory of this season. We invite you to celebrate this wondrous reality of the advent of Immanuel. Merry Christmas and may His indwelling presence fill you with “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8)!

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