The Power of Christ
You can’t imagine the raw power that it takes to catapult an F/A 18 fighter that weighs 32,080 pounds off the deck of an aircraft carrier. The plane goes from zero to 150 knots, that’s 170 miles an hour, in two seconds. If you think that a catapult shot is impressive, think about the raw power of a God capable of calling a universe into being. Then think about all of this power being funneled into six or eight pounds of human flesh. In the sweetness of the Nativity scene, we tend to overlook the fact that this child wrapped in swaddling clothes is God himself.
In the early 1970’s I was stationed at the Naval Air Test Center in Patuxent River, Maryland. One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about the military is that they permitted me to play with gigantic toys. One particular day, the catapult officer invited me to come and watch some tests of a later model of the Phantom Jet fighter. They had a catapult arrangement laid out at the end of a runway and they planned to run the Phantom through its paces. The first shot was barely above stall speed and we watched the plane shudder as it struggled to get into the air. Subsequent tests increased power, until the final test was at full military power with JATO assist. The catapult officer said the plane was miles out before the pilot even got his eyeballs uncaged. Much more recently I saw the result of those tests watching the catapult shot of a F/A 18 fighter off the deck of an aircraft carrier. You can’t imagine the raw power that it takes to get a plane that weighs 32,080 pounds from zero to 150 knots, that’s 170 miles an hour in 2 seconds. That’s one of the reasons that I was always happy that the detailer never assigned this Captain Kirk to duty aboard the USS Enterprise.
If you think that a catapult shot is impressive, think about the raw power of God. Think about a God capable of calling an entire universe into existence. Think about standing before the judgment seat of that kind of God and being questioned not only about the things that you’ve done wrong, but about all of the things that you should have done and didn’t. As Isaiah put it in the Old Testament lesson, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might.” Now think of all of this raw power poured into six or eight pounds of human flesh. In the sweetness of the Nativity scene, we tend to overlook that this child wrapped in swaddling clothes is God himself.
Having been privileged to watch four Christmas programs by various age levels of our school, I was struck by the fact that our understanding of Christmas ends with getting him here. There were shepherds and sheep, cows, donkeys, Mary and Joseph, and, of course, the baby Jesus. There were even wisemen, who actually didn’t arrive on the scene until probably several years later. All of it very nicely done, but that’s where it stops. The costumes are put away. The parties are held. School is over until next year.
When I was the manager of the Seminary’s print shop, the former manager asked if he could use our offset press to run some Christmas cards that he designed. One of them I think captured the essence of Christmas. On the outside was a stylized representation of a manger. When you opened the card there was a half circle topped by three crosses. Text was superfluous . The message was clear. This child was born for a purpose—to suffer and die in the place of human beings. That may be too much for those bent on celebrating Christmas. Yet it is precisely there that the power of God is released. God was in Christ, this tiny baby, reconciling the world unto himself. It didn’t just happen thirty years later. It began at this point when God took upon himself human flesh.
But Isaiah has more to say about this God who comes in power. He is like a shepherd tending his flock. The picture is not of the gigantic sheep stations of Australia or New Zealand with its thousands upon thousands of sheep. It is rather a picture of the smaller flocks one would find in Israel, a flock in which the shepherd knew each of his sheep. The shepherd has probably attend the birth of each of his lambs, nurtured it, tended it when hurt, sought the best pastures, and safe water. The relationship is a picture of tender, individual care. That’s the application of the power of God unleashed in this child.
Throughout his life this child will live attuned not to a human definition of religion, but to the will of his Father. He will live the life that God would expect of us. And finally he will reach that point in which during a few hours the fate of the world will hang in the balance. It will literally hang in the balance on a couple of pieces of rough wood bound together to form a cross. It is at that moment when the full power of God, power beyond human comprehension, was unleashed to overcome sin, death, and the devil. That is the power resident in this child sleeping so peacefully in a manger.
Resulting from the release of that power on a cross is the power to forgive sins. From the life of this child comes the ability to simply wipe away the guilt of our sins. Until we realize that the past cannot be changed, but only forgiven, we are handicapped in our ability to move forward into the future. Hidden away in a child, in water, in bread, and wine God’s power, made clear through very humble means, has the ability to change lives. Our congregational vision—Serving Christ—Serving Others—Changing Lives—is an expression of the power which God has unleashed.
It seems that we have reached the point when left-over Halloween candy and Christmas ornaments compete with each other for space on supermarket shelves. Holiday banners go up on the light posts before we’ve settled down to the Thanksgiving turkey. Catalogues begin to flood our mailboxes, and advertisements present us with all sorts of intriguing ways to empty our pockets. Maybe the world knows something that we have forgotten. It takes a while to understand the full implications of Christmas, and it is only through that power of God expressed in this Child in a manger that we can experience true comfort and joy.