With us is God, what shall I fear?

Homily 482 – 26th APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
December 19, 2021
Epistle: (328) Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40
Gospel: (1) Matthew 1:1-25

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Emmanuel. With us is God.

In a few days, we’ll sing that refrain repeatedly as we celebrate the Nativity. This morning, we begin the process of the incarnation – and Nativity – of our Lord.

We are told by St. Matthew of the genealogy of St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

One of the amazing aspects of the incarnation is that the Word of God, the Son of God, second person of the Trinity, now has a past. And a future.

The second person of the Triune Godhead, who before this was eternal, having no past nor future, now had both. And the genealogy provides us with evidence of that.

Provides evidence of the new Humanity of Christ. Not just Himself, enfleshed. But everything that humanity has, everything that humanity is.

He had his own consciousness – but also now had His own People. That’s what we call family in the South. These are our People.

And so, God is now with us. We can touch Him, we can see Him. We can depict Him on boards with pigments.

With us – such an easy but so complicated phrase. With us – not just present, not just here. But experiencing everything it is to be human.

Jesus set aside all-knowing and learned as we do. Jesus set aside all majesty and served, as we are to serve. Jesus set aside all power and became a subject.

Everything that was His to possess – as God – He set aside. It was still His, but He set it aside to be us.

How can we best describe the wonder of the Incarnation? Who am I to even try?

One of my favorite descriptions is the statement that Mary’s womb became more spacious than the heavens. And yet, that doesn’t do justice to what occurred, in time and in space, in that little hill town in Judea.

With us – it is an amazing phrase. It is what we might say of our spouse, our best friend. They are truly with us – understanding and experiencing everything that we understand and experience.

They are angry when we are angry and joyful when we are joyful and frustrated when we are frustrated and sad when we are sad.

They are with us. And Christ is with us. God is with us. Perfection is with us. Love – pure unconditional, unearned love – is with us.

So, God is with us. What do we do with that information? What do we do with that fact? It is a miracle, beyond our comprehension. What does it mean? For us?

Foremost – without question – we shouldn’t fear. Gabriel’s first words to Mary – “Do not be afraid, for I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people.”

Do not be afraid that God is with us. Because He is us. We no longer have to say, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” like St. Peter did.

Don’t be afraid of what risks we see coming down the road. God’s will be done!

The scary things may not go away, the tragic things may not go away, but God is with us. We can take risks. We can give away beyond what we can afford. We can give to the poor by sharing our bounty. We can love the unlovable.

We can be in the moment. Not reliving the past, nor anticipating what is to come. We can endure suffering, we can face rejection and ridicule, even martyrdom.

We can live as ones who are truly free. This is where freedom is found – God with us.

There is, however, as you might guess, a “but” coming up. Never fails. “But.”

God will not be where He is not welcome. God will not stay where He is rejected. He honors our desire to live without Him. He is that one that when we tell Him “I’ve got this” His response is “OK, I’ll be over here if you need me.”

Sometimes, we push God further and further away from us. Then, God isn’t with us. Not because He wants it that way – but because we want it that way.

This is one area that I think Calvinism has truly messed up Christianity – and forgive me for saying so. Calvin taught that our lives, whether or not we can and will love God, is pre-determined. Predestined.

But that ignores that God gave us free will so that our love would be freely given to Him, and not somehow hard-wired within us. Because love that isn’t freely given isn’t love.

God respects our free will. And so, it is possible for us to reject Him. And then, God isn’t with us anymore.

Brothers and sisters, as we enter this Nativity feast, think on these things. God is with us. Of what do we fear? Nothing, because God is with us.

And let all of us resolve, here and now, to draw even closer to Him, to His Church, and to one another, so that on that Great and Glorious day we can proclaim, “Christ is born, Glorify Him!”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.