God Has Visited Us…
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David”
These are troubled days that we live in. In the last few weeks, in particular, we have witnessed so many tragedies:
- The mass suffering in Aleppo. Thousands have been killed, including many children, and many more became refugees.
- The war in Iraq and especially around Mosul continues with people dying every day.
- The terror bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral that killed 22 Christians.
- The shooting attack in Karak Jordan.
- The assassination of the Russian ambassador in Turkey.
- The continuous violence in Yemen.
- The terror attack on the Christmas Market in Berlin.
- The shooting at a mosque in Zurich.
- The deadly explosion in Mexico.
The world is a dangerous place, and it seems that no place is safe anymore We have fallen short as humans from what God has intended for us to be – his image on earth! We are seeing humanity in its ugliest image.
When the attack at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Egypt took place, in that week I led a devotion for the staff of Bethlehem Bible College. I asked them to openly express their feelings about what happened. One particular reply by a young woman was so strong and honest. She probably imagined herself in their place. She was not troubled by the terrorists. She was not simply sad for the families. She was angry at God. “I am troubled by God”, she said. “Where was he? Why didn’t he stop this?”
Where was God? Why does it seem these days that God is so distant from us; leaving us in this unending cycle of self-destruction and dehumanization of the other?
As a pastor, these are the type of questions you sometimes wish no one asks you! And it goes beyond terror attacks and catastrophes. As a pastor I encounter so many broken lives, homes, marriages and dreams – people who are in despair and who cry with the Psalmists in Psalm 88:
O Lord, God of my salvation,
I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!
For my soul is full of troubles,
I am a man who has no strength,
O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me.
Don’t these verses describe the way we feel many times in our troubled and messy world? Where is God from all of this?
In this special day of Christmas, we remember that God is actually not that distant from us. Today we remember that it was here in Bethlehem 2000 years ago that God has visited us. It was here that the divine became human. It was here that God has remember his people!
Let us not forget what happened here 2000 years ago – and how it happened, for that has significant importance for us today.
Amazingly, or maybe not so amazingly, circumstances here when Jesus was born were not that different from today. An Empire. Occupation. Checkpoints. Interrogations. Corruption. Poor and rich. Military violence. Walls of hostility and hatred. Intifadas. Cities completely destroyed. Refugees. Religious fatalism. Obsession with the end times. Religious violence. Death!
It seems that this land has never known peace! The people of this land and this region continue to cry over the centuries: “Wainak Ya Allah?!” (where are you God?).
Amazingly – it was here, and it could only be here – that God has chosen to become man, to join our struggles as humans, to become part of this mess. Ever wondered why Bethlehem? Palestine? The “Middle East”? Well, if there is a place that so desperately and constantly needs to see the “mighty brought down from their thrones”, or “the hungry filled with good things”, as Mary prayed, it is this place. If there is ever a place that so desperately and constantly needs to hear the words of the angels “peace on earth”, it is this place.
If there is ever a place that so desperately needs a divine visit, a visit from the God who is love, mercy and compassion, it is this place!
The incarnation had to take place here.
And when God became man, he did through a baby. The symbol of life. Beauty. Simplicity. But also the symbol of weakness. Vulnerability. Innocence. This is how God became man.
He did through a poor and humble family. “For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant”, Mary said. And that family was homeless at the time. They had no place to sleep in. And then that family later became refugees; away from their home, looking for safety and shelter.
And when Jesus was born, there was a terror attack against the children of Bethlehem – a state terror attack! An attack that had a political rational (self protection or safety), and was executed by the solders – the agents of the Empire.
This is where and how God became man. And these were the days and circumstances that he chose to be born in.
Today and on this Christmas eve we remember that God has visited his people. Today we remember anew that: his name is “Immanuel”,
which means, God with us (Matthew 1:23)
So let us go back to the question: “Where was God”? Where was he when the bomb exploded in Cairo? When bombs kill thousands of innocent people in Syria? Where is he today after almost 50 years of military occupation?
Where was he when the children of Bethlehem were massacred 2000 years ago? When the people of this land lived under bondage and in fear? Where was he when Mary and Joseph became refugees?
The answer is that he is Immanuel. God with us. God with us in our suffering. God with us in our brokenness. God with us in our weakness. God with us in our need.
The good news of Christmas is that God has visited us. He has remembered his people. He has never forgotten us actually. But I think we missed him too often, because we did not expect to see him in humility and poverty. We probably looked in the wrong places: In fancy palaces and temples; among armies; among the rich and powerful. Surely, God is with them, we thought!
Christmas reminds us where and when to find God.
If you want to find God in the midst of our troubled and messy world, look for him in a cave with a homeless family. Look for him in the midst of refugees. Look for him in places where there is suffering, terror and death. Look for him in warzones.
If you want to find God in the midst of our troubled world – you will find him at a cross, suffering with us and for us. Beaten, humiliated, and dying, so that we could have life in glory and honor.
This is why the message of Christmas is one of comfort! Isaiah’s famous words echo in hope today as they did thousands of years ago: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God”. How come? Because God is coming! “Prepare the way of the Lord”!
Today we are not hopeless. We are not in despair. Today we remember that God has visited us. Immanuel, God is with us. Indeed, God is still with us today. He is so near. This is our comfort and joy today. God has visited his people.
Not only that, today we remember that God takes sides! He chose to suffer with us. He became part of our messy and ugly world, and sided with the oppressed; the weak; the humble and the poor.
And more importantly, today we remember that God has visited us so that we could be with him one day forever. Jesus is the savior and redeemer of our world. Today we remember that God in his love sent Jesus to our world to redeem us from sin; from hate; from death; from sorrow; from sickness. Today we remember that the baby of Bethlehem is the redeemer of our lives and of our world, and that one day – and we must be sure of that – one day he will put an end to the messiness of our world. There will be no more death, terror, wars, sickness, cancer, brokenness, shame, tears, or fears. All of this will one day come to and end. We cannot lose our hope.
Today we remember: God has visited us. And so, in this Christmas season, may we find God, experience him, and sing with Mary: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant…for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation…”