Christmas is a time when we cross great distances and deep divides to be with the ones we love. For some, that might mean traveling to see family and friends in a different town or state. For others, it might mean taking small steps to overcome conflict with someone in your family. Christmas is a time when we try to overcome estrangement.
One divide we all feel is the divide between God and us. God is a stranger to us. God is naturally different from us because he is distinct from creation: he is the Creator and we are his creatures.
God is also ethically distinct from us: he is holy and we are not. This difference, unlike the natural difference that exists between God and us, is not benign. God is morally opposed to those who are not like him in holiness, justice, righteousness, and love. We are by nature, therefore, enemies of God.
All the religions of the world try to overcome this estrangement by trying to make their way up to God through a well-lived life, or by offering a particular set of sacrifices, or by believing certain doctrines.
Only Christianity, however, says that God has descended to us. Although he would have been perfectly within his rights to keep his distance and to refuse to engage with his rebellious creation, he overcomes this estrangement by drawing near. The heart of the Christian religion and the center of what we celebrate at Christmas is God drawing near to us in the person of his Son, Jesus. By joining a human nature to his eternal divine nature, God overcame the natural difference between him and his creation. Jesus is as fully human as you and me.
God also overcomes the ethical estrangement between him and his creation through Jesus. “To as many as received him,” John 1:12 says, “he gave power to become the sons of God.”
If you’ve ever ridden the “Tube” in London, you quickly get used to the voice that tells you to “mind the gap”—the space between the platform and the subway car that must be crossed over. Receiving Jesus begins by acknowledging the gap that exists between God and us, not just naturally but also ethically.
To receive Jesus means we must be honest about the estrangement we feel. Receiving Jesus means we see in him the way to cross over from a place of danger to a place of safety, from a place of estrangement to a place of belonging. When we receive Jesus, we become “children of God”—a special privilege given as a gift to those who trust in Jesus.
Is God a stranger to you? He doesn’t need to be. He has overcome the estrangement in the most accessible of human forms: the baby who reaches out for our embrace. God has drawn near. The Lord of Creation has become like you and me—for you and me—so that he might redeem us.
Eric Landry is executive editor of Modern Reformation.