“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Christmas Eve is the verses just read, Luke 2, verses eight to twelve. Dear friends in Christ: Where do you encounter God? Some say that they encounter God in the quiet of the forest, others in the beauty of a sunrise. Some people claim to encounter God in those they meet as they journey through this life, seeing God in their friends, their families, their neighbors. The more religious types may find God in the quiet times in their day, when they meditate silently. For still others, God is to be found in the wonderful blessings they have received: good health, resources to live on, and the happiness that comes from being well-provided for. Where is God? Most people, including most Christians, quite righty believe that God is everywhere, and so they seek to encounter Him anywhere.
That seems to make a lot of sense—if God is everywhere, then you surely must be able to find Him anywhere—but there is a big problem with that line of thinking: it isn’t taught by the Bible! The Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, clearly teach that God is everywhere, but they do not draw the conclusion that we are to seek Him anywhere. In fact, the teaching of the Bible is quite the opposite: God is everywhere, but we are to seek Him only where He has promised to be found. For the Scriptures a God who is everywhere is as useless as a God who is nowhere—they describe a God who locates Himself. In the Old Testament, He located Himself in the tabernacle, in the temple, in the words of the prophets. If you asked an Old Testament believer where God was, they would point to the Holy of Holies, to the Ark of the Covenant, where God had promised to be. But this was only setting the stage for the mystery that John tells us about in the first chapter of his Gospel: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Take everything you think about God and throw it out the window; God became flesh, He has located Himself in a human frame—when we see the man Jesus, we are to boldly declare, “There is God!” Every idea you have of what a God should be is shattered and destroyed by John’s bold declaration, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
God located Himself in a human frame; God is an embryo, a zygote, a developing child, and then, on this night, a baby, born of a virgin mother, laying in a manger. God is everywhere, but on this night God is somewhere, He has located Himself in the manger as He once located Himself in the temple. The manger is the new temple, and it is to that temple that the shepherds are sent. “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’” The shepherds aren’t sent to seek for their Savior anywhere they might want to look; they aren’t to look for Him in the peace of the forest, the beauty of a sunset, or the quiet of meditation. They are to look for their Savior, their God, in a manger. God is to be found not in power and pomp and glory, but in humility. God is located in a baby born far away from home, wrapped in rags, born to a dirt-poor peasant girl.
The God who has always located Himself in specific places has promised to be found in one specific place: in the manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths. The shepherds come to Mary and Joseph and see God’s most incredible and unexpected locating of Himself, the mystery John expressed in unforgettable words: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” A God who is everywhere is as useless as a God who is nowhere, for there is no promise that we can find Him in grace, in love, in salvation. We could spend an eternity searching creation trying to find a place where this God reveals Himself in love. But our God, the God proclaimed by the Scriptures, doesn’t send us on such a wild goose chase. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” We are not to look for God anywhere, but somewhere, in a specific place, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. For there, only there, has He promised to be for our salvation.
The angel declared, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Where is God? He is the baby in the manger, the child Jesus. He is the man Jesus, grown up and preaching the Word, healing the sick, and raising the dead. Where is God? He is hanging upon the cross, dying as the required price for our sin, dying so that we will live. He is greeting the disciples on Easter evening, showing them the wounds in the hands and side of His resurrected flesh. God is everywhere, but He is present for our salvation only in the flesh of Jesus.
And nothing has changed in the nearly two thousand years since He ascended into heaven. God is still present among us in specific places, the means Christ has established to bring us His blood-bought forgiveness, life, and salvation. We aren’t to go looking everywhere for forgiveness, but to Baptism, where we are made God’s child, to the Lord’s Supper, where we are fed Christ’s very Body and Blood, the price of our salvation, and to the Word, which proclaims to us the salvation won through the cross and empty tomb. And where are these all found? They are given in the Church, on Sunday morning! That is where Christ has promised to be for our salvation, no matter how humble the building or even if there is no building at all. Where Christ’s people are gathered around the Word and the blessed Sacraments, there Christ has promised to be for our salvation.
Saying that I can worship God just as well at home, or a fishing boat, or a tree stand, or anywhere else for that matter, then makes no sense. It’s as if you were to stop the shepherds as they are running to the manger and say to them, “Don’t you know that God is everywhere? You can worship Him just as well in your fields or in your homes as at the manger.” They would probably give you a strange look and say: “God promised to be at the manger. There are no promises of grace and forgiveness attached to our fields or our homes, but in the manger, we have the promise of a Savior.” Our God is everywhere, but we are to look for Him where He has promised to be found for our salvation: in the flesh of Jesus, in the waters of Baptism, in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, in His Word read and proclaimed. Humble means, to be sure, much less majestic than sunrises and forests, but our God has been wrapped in humble clothing before. “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Spending time in quiet forests meditating upon beautiful sunrises is certainly good for your blood pressure. But while God is everywhere, He is only found for our good, for our salvation, where He has promised to be. He is specific, He has located Himself in certain places, and only there has He promised to give us forgiveness, life, salvation. Rejoice, for you don’t have to search creation to find a gracious God—He comes to you here in this very place, right where He has told you He would be. His manger is water, bread and wine, words spoken or printed on a page. In those humble means, your God is there for your good, for your salvation. He has located Himself specifically, so there will be no doubt that here, through these means, your sins are forgiven and life everlasting is given to you. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He who is everywhere located Himself somewhere: in the manger, on the cross, in the Word and the Sacraments. In the Name of Jesus, the Word made flesh for our salvation, Amen.