Emerson wrote, “The only gift is a portion of thyself.” As a writer, then, this is my gift. This Christmas I decided to share the article I wrote for the December, 2003 issue of SIGNS. I hope it enriches this season for you.
God with Us: His Present is His Presence
by Ed Dickerson
Alone at Christmas. It’s hard to imagine pouring more melancholy into fewer words. Other phrases might elicit more fear or grief or outrage. For simple sadness, however, it’s hard to match the feeling of being alone, separated from family and friends, at Christmas. Like no other holiday, no other time of the year, at Christmas we long to be with those we love.
We associate gifts with Christmas too. But even the gift giving is more about sharing each other’s company than anything else. Emerson said, “The only gift is a portion of thyself.” The perfect gift communicates the message that, however events separate us through the intervening year, we constantly carry the recipient in our hearts. Always, being present matters more than bringing presents.
Perhaps the idea of “presence” explains why so many suffer depression during this supposedly joyful season. For some, the spirit of the season highlights their lack anywhere to go, of anyone close with whom to share. Christmas interrupts the feverish activity that anesthetizes their aching loneliness the rest of the year. Others spend a breathless year anticipating the annual gathering, only to find, once again, that physical proximity of family members only emphasizes their emotional separation. Many suffer the cruel irony of loneliness, in a crowded world, during the season of togetherness. Some it drives to despair.
Fortunately, the despair of physical or emotional separation can be alleviated when one understands the present of presence, which is at the heart of Christmas. Matthew introduces the concept: “ ‘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 Christmas means we need never be alone again, for God is with us.
In the beginning, God communed with Adam and Eve face to face. Then the shadow of sin fell on this intimate relationship, separating them. In the words of Isaiah: “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you.”2
After the departure from Eden, people drifted away from God. The separation grew, and repeated deliverance and exhortation through the prophets could not reverse the trend. Only divine intervention could reconcile and reunite God with humans. The event we celebrate as Christmas represents God’s radical solution to the separation, His prescription to heal the breach in our relationship. C. S. Lewis wrote that Christianity is a religion “you wouldn’t have thought of.” Christmas demonstrates the truth of that statement. For God did not merely come to men. God became a man. Hearing the story so often, we lose sight of its breathtaking audacity. Certainly, Christ’s claim shocked His world. To understand the radical nature of God’s solution, let’s take it one step at a time.
The Present is God
God. Make no mistake, Jesus is God. The Gospel of John repeatedly refers to Christ as the “only begotten” Son. That’s because we make robots, automobiles, computer programs, and novels—things that fundamentally differ from ourselves. We beget only children, beings with exactly the same nature as ourselves. Describing Christ as “the only begotten Son” distinguishes Him as the only one with the same divine nature as the Father. All those who come to faith in God may be rightly called “children of God”3—but we are “adopted,” not begotten, children.
Some misunderstand the term begotten, thinking it indicates that there was a time when Christ did not exist. Jesus himself cleared up this misunderstanding during a dispute with the Jewish elders. “ ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ ” Jesus answered, “ ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ ”4 I AM, the name God declared to Moses at the burning bush, indicates God’s eternal existence. The Jewish leaders showed they clearly understood Jesus’ claim to be God, because they took up stones to punish Him for blasphemy.
Our human lives derive from sources outside ourselves. Our parents gave us life, and that life continues through agencies beyond our control. As Paul said, we “live and move and have our being”5 in God. Not so Jesus. He possessed life in Himself, just as God does. Jesus made this clear when He declared concerning His own impending death and resurrection, “I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.”6 No mere human being could make that statement or perform that action. Only One with the same eternal nature as God, Himself the Source of life, could do such a thing. A classic biography of Jesus puts it clearly. “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived.”7
The Gospel of John affirms that Jesus is Creator: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”8 He demonstrated His control over the elements of nature by quieting the storm on Galilee and by turning water into wine.9
We have seen that the Bible leaves no doubt about Jesus’ deity. He has the same nature as God the Father, He existed from all eternity, He possesses life within Himself, and He is Creator. The shocking thing is, He is also fully human.
The Present is human
Us. Jesus’ contemporaries doubted that He was God, but they never questioned His humanity. We know He encountered life just as we do, in all its variety. He experienced fatigue, hunger, thirst, grief, anger, and love.10 He experienced more than His share of sadness, because He took our share too. He was so human that many of His contemporaries could not fathom His being God. When He healed people and performed miracles, His envious neighbors used His humanity to put Him down: “We’ve known him since he was a kid; he’s the carpenter’s son.”11
Why did Jesus need to be this mysterious, one-of-a-kind being, fully God and fully man? Because God realized that only in this way could He bridge the gulf of sin and span the distance that disbelief had placed between human beings and God.
Being God allowed Christ to explain God to humans. Remember, after Adam and Eve sinned, human beings drifted away from God. Listening to Lucifer’s lies, we lost the knowledge of God and no longer trusted Him. Jesus came to show us the Father—specifically the Father’s great love.12 As the only-begotten Son, Jesus understood the Father’s heart; and as a human, He could communicate that love to us in ways we could understand. Jesus’ loving life reassures us and removes our doubts about the Father’s attitude toward us.
His experience as a human equipped Jesus to understand our temptations and struggles, to empathize fully with us. This experience enables Christ to communicate God’s grace and love to precisely meet our needs. He understands through firsthand experience what we suffer and what we need to overcome adversity. This human experience also allows Him to communicate our needs and our struggles to the Father. Hebrews tells us that Christ continually intercedes for us with His Father, explaining our needs and obtaining grace.13
Jesus serves as a living bridge to cross the gulf that separated us from the Father. Through Christ, the Father can understand the human experience and can communicate His love to us. Through Christ, we can have assurance that the Father loves us and that He cares about our trials. Assurance of the Father’s love is a wonderful gift—but we receive something even more magnificent!
The Present is permanent
God with Us. Sometimes we lose track of the permanence of the gift God gave us. It’s easy to think that Jesus was human for only the 30-plus years He lived in Palestine. It is almost beyond belief that God didn’t loan us His Son only to take Christ away after He had served a “tour of duty” as a human. Christ agreed to become a human being, knowing it would be a one-way trip, with no turning back. And here we begin to glimpse the magnitude of the gift we have in Jesus. “To us a child is born, to us a son is given.”14 Christ has become a human for all eternity. In Jesus Christ, God and Man are eternally reunited.
Once we understand God’s great gift of presence, we do not give to emulate the Magi. Rather, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, God’s great gift! In coming together for this occasion, we celebrate the eternal reunion of God and Man! The event we celebrate at Christmas represents God’s ultimate antidote for loneliness, the divine affirmation that we were not meant to be alone. Appreciation of this tremendous truth led Paul to write: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”15 Of course not. Forever united in the very Person of Christ, God and Man can never be separated again. God with us! His present is His presence! Forever.
1Matthew 1:22, 23
31 John 3:1.
4John 8:57, 58, NKJV.
6John 10:17, 18.
7The Desire of Ages, 530.
This article is © 2003, 2013 by Ed Dickerson. All rights reserved.