Fully God, Fully Human


Doug Linhardt, December 12, 2014

The beginning of the Christmas story, as told by Matthew:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” -- which means “God with us”.

We are familiar with the Christmas story. We know about the shepherds and the wise men, the star (I have to mention the star tonight, right?), gold, frankincense and myrrh, and a baby lying in a manger. These are all pleasant images that we deposited in our memories as children, and they make us glow when we come to the Christmas season.

But do we stop to think about who that baby was? We are told throughout the new testament that this baby named Jesus is none other than God, the creator and Lord of the universe. He is frequently referred to as the "Son of God", meaning he is of the same essence or substance as God the father. But can we really believe that? There are a number of things about Jesus that don't sound very God-like.

We are told that Jesus was hungry and thirsty. Jesus himself said that God is spirit, and if that's true, how can a spirit hunger or thirst? Jesus got tired. How can the God who sustains all life on earth get tired? Jesus was a physical, finite man who began his life on the very first Christmas and died on the very first Good Friday. How can an infinite, ageless God be bound inside time and space in the body of a man? How can God be born or die? The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus "learned obedience from what he suffered" and that he was "tempted in every way, just as we are." These are characteristics of man, not God.

But scripture remains adamant that Jesus is God. Even His resurrection from the dead on the very first Easter screams that Jesus is God. And yet, he still had these man-like limitations. Have you ever considered that Jesus was God with a disability? Jesus intentionally and willingly set aside some of his abilities as God to come live within His creation here on earth. He had those needs--special needs, if you will--that would have been absent had He not come to earth as a baby. Paul wrote this to the Philippians about Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.

This is not the package in which one would expect to find God.

We'll come back to that in a moment, but let's consider the wonderful musicians and performers in the program tonight. Every one of them is fully human, just like us. They have human parents, eat human food, have human dreams and aspirations, show human love, and have the image of God emblazoned on them like all other men and women walking on this planet. But they have special needs.

By no means am I suggesting that these special needs are insignificant or easy to deal with. My son, Nate, was up there banging on drums and chimes earlier, so I have some personal knowledge of what it takes to deal with a child with special needs. Through discussions with other men in our STARS Dads group, I have learned some of the struggles that other families face while dealing with their STARS. Some of our STARS need devices to allow them to speak. Some need nursing care around the clock. Some are unable to perform the most rudimentary measures of personal hygiene. Many are academically delayed and will never be able to function at a level anywhere near that of their peers, or ever be self sufficient. Do you realize that some of the STARS parents will never be empty nesters?

However, most of us here in this sanctuary tonight are here because of a specific person or two whom we love very much. A child, a grandchild, a sibling, niece, nephew or a friend. Yes--we see the disabilities or special needs and know that they are not trivial, but we also see past those needs to the person at the core. The outside world may see adaptive devices or spectrum disorder or intellectual disability, but we know better. These are the people we have loved since before they were born.

Still, the world doesn't always accept that. The world gets hung up with the devices. The world gets frustrated with the abnormal behavior and the difficult speech. The world doesn't recognize the person, only the outside trappings. Low IQ?--he is less than a real person. Constant care?--she is less than a real person. Financial drain on society?--maybe society doesn't want him.

The world had the same problem with Jesus. John tells us:

The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

The world hasn't changed. They saw God who didn't act like God, and they rejected him. The world sees our STARS who don't act like their peers, and the world rejects them.

But why did Jesus take on these special needs? Why did he come to us on Christmas and take on the body of a lesser being--of a man? The writer of the book of Hebrews writes this about Jesus:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

There was a purpose for Jesus taking on His special needs. By becoming a man, God is able to sympathize with our struggles. He knows what it is like to be tempted by sin. He knows what it is like to be scorned and hated and falsely accused. And because He can sympathize with our struggles, we can go straight to His throne for help. Mankind, who could not recognize Jesus' true nature as God, now can approach God for help specifically because He became a man. He can help us in our time of need, which might include our struggles with our STARS' needs. Jesus became a better helper for us, not because He changed but because our perception of Him changed. We see a God who has faced the struggles of being a man.

John continues:

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of a natural descent, nor of a human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Because Jesus descended to become a man, if we accept Him we have the right to become children of God. And because Jesus became a man, we are able to see His glory. Precisely because Jesus was born on Christmas and lived among us and became one of us, He is able to save us from our sins and bring us into God's family.

In the same way, we need to look at our STARS. What is the purpose of special needs? As many of you know, these STARS have an inexhaustible capacity for friendship, for service, for joy, for love. Seeing the STARS care for one another and for us "normal" people is special. As a matter of fact, many of the STARS have to be taught to not hug and kiss their friends. We all know it's socially unacceptable, and we feel awkward when we see it, but it is just a natural expression of love from a STAR. Think about that for a moment. We have to teach our STARS to NOT display love and joy because society says it's wrong. Sometimes I wonder if I have the disability because I don't seem to have the capacity for joy and love that my son exhibits. The STARS have so much to teach us if we only pay attention.

So tonight I invite you to consider this God with special needs. If you have trouble seeing that the baby lying in the manger was and always will be God, consider the STARS. In the same way that the STARS are people who make our lives better and teach us so many things, the Christ child we celebrate at Christmas was and always will be Immanuel, God with us, who shows us His glory, and helps us and brings us into His family.

Likewise, if you have trouble with accepting the STARS here--if you see them as something less than fully human, might I suggest you consider Jesus? He is God with special needs to show us that disabilities do not diminish us, but actually complete us.