At last, sleep came. There, on the straw, in the unlikeliest of places, Mary could resist no more. Exhaustion conquered her young frame, and she succumbed to a deep, dreamless sleep — her body recovering from the trauma of birthing a life. His crying finally woke her, and her heavy eyelids burst open. The dawn was still distant, but His hunger would not wait. She breathed in the chill night air as her mind cleared. Everything that had happened came flooding back. She sat up and saw Him there, in the feed trough. While she had been lost in unconscious slumber, He had been there, right where she left Him. His tiny chest rose and fell beneath the swaddling clothes. The urgency of his cries hastened, but Mary breathed a sigh of relief. He was fine. In fact, He was more than fine. He was home. Jesus was staying. For the first time since the beginning, God was actually staying now.
God had come many times before.
He had eaten with Abraham, He had appeared to Isaac and Jacob, and He had hosted a feast for Moses and the elders of Israel on top of Mount Sinai. As grand and terrifying as these encounters were, they were always fleeting. The majesty of these events was momentary — brief. Consider this dramatic account of what happened after the angel of the LORD had visited Manoah and his wife to instruct them concerning Samson’s birth:
“Then Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain you so that we may prepare a young goat for you.” The angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Though you detain me, I will not eat your food, but if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD. Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honor you?” But the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to the LORD, and He performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on. For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground. Now the angel of the LORD did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. So Manoah said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.” Judges 13:15-22
And that about summed it up. These visits, called theophanies, were like flashes of lightning, brilliant, and then gone like smoke rising to the heavens. Yet with Jesus, it was different. He was like the sun — warm, steady, and constant — the light of the world (John 8:12).
When God became a man, wasn’t just a cameo appearance for nostalgic Christmas pageants to tug our heartstrings.
He joined this tragic drama called the human story and became its chief player — turning the plotline inside out. He was there in the City of David (Jerusalem) after the angels had departed and returned to their heavenly abode. Their great Captain remained. Jesus was there in Bethlehem after the shepherds resumed the care of their flocks, His two new parents searching for more permanent housing in a place that was not home. We know nothing of His life until the eighth day when He was circumcised and formally named. God had come, and He was being carried about by two sleep-deprived parents as they wandered through those ancient, narrow streets desperate for someone to show them a bit of hospitality.
What about all of these days, so many thousands of days, of which nothing at all is recorded for us? A veil of obscurity hides them from our gaze, but surely, He was there. God with us. He was there on overcast mornings and sweltering afternoons. He was there in the workshop where He learned carpentry from his father to feed his brothers and sisters. He was in the synagogue as a boy with the other children His age. Jesus was present at the funerals and the weddings of the villagers who inhabited those nondescript houses in the quiet town of Nazareth. God descended into the common. He immersed Himself in the ordinary. He walked alongside humanity in all of its brokenness and devastation. He suffered with us.
It is a time not only to remember that luminous hour of His arrival but also to drink deeply of the truth that Jesus came and dwelt among us. He stayed with us.
Jesus was our neighbor and our friend. He was the one who sold us tables and then sat beside us at the well. Of course, we are all painfully aware that Jesus is not here right now. He is no longer with us. Jesus offered a timeless, authoritative statement of what God is really like and how He desires to relate to men and women throughout all the ages. While Jesus is not physically present with us right now, He can make His dwelling in our hearts through His Spirit so that we can still walk in close relationship with Him.
Perhaps you are reading these words, and yet you have never actually decided to trust in Jesus for your salvation and be His friend. Perhaps you have spent many Christmas seasons in church but realize that your heart has grown distant from the Lord. No matter where we have come from, advent is a time for us all to draw closer to the fire. It is a time to give our attention to the glory and the mystery of what began in a manger and will end with God coming and making His home among us again, forever.
Search the Bible today. You can read the story of Jesus for yourself. Go to the pages of the Gospel of John. Jesus’ heart beats for us in every word written. His story is your story, and He invites you to come to Him today. He will be God with you.