“Come near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay, Close by me forever, and love me, I pray” (Christmas carol “Away in a Manger”).
Christmas is approaching. What happened far away is coming near. What happened in Palestine will reach Long Island. Far away Heaven invaded this world. As Matthew 1:23 reflects, El Shaddai (God Almighty) is truly to be Immanuel (God with Us). “Away in a Manger” is to become “Come near me.” The glory of the Almighty appears very closely as a humble infant.
God Almighty transforms overwhelming glory into small intimacy. And in doing so, he creates openness. Mary’s little Lamb completely respects our humanity and upends human pride simultaneously.
What happens when a person comes near in a positive, healthy way? They encourage trust. They disarm cynicism. They create a balance of truth and grace. They become transparent and humble. They allow a genuine gratitude of being human, created in the image of God. They practice forgiveness instead of harboring resentment.
Such healthy intimacy transforms us. Peter, who was to become the closest person to Jesus, was at first terrified of the nearness of Jesus. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). I think there is always that very human reaction to such closeness. Jesus, over three years time, would teach him how to be in gracious, truthful relationship. God works his way into our hearts.
God intends to overcome a hostile world by “making himself nothing” (Philippians 2:7). In a world full of people pushing to make a name for themselves, he is nothing.
You expect him to be first in line. But he is able to be first by being last. Self promotion — the obsession of the world — is eclipsed by self-forgetfulness. And intimacy of a good kind thrives.
“What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15). “The world did not recognize him” (John 1:10). How does God surmount such contrast? The answer is the God who made himself nothing. The way up is down.
May this God of nearness and smallness conquer every aspect of our church life and personal lives. Praise the One who fits into the manger and every detail of the heart! Indeed may we all enjoy the intimacy of God this holy season.