If you want to see what the Triune God is really like, look at Jesus. If you want to know what you could really look like, start there, too.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Nativity of Our Lord
Texts: Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14; Luke 2:1-20 (also references other Scriptures)
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
We love to think of God in disguise on this day.
The almighty and eternal Triune God hides all that glory and God-ness inside a little baby, born to a poor family in the Middle East, soon to be political refugees. The Trinity hides in a human infant, with human DNA, vulnerable, weak, threatened. As Martin Luther taught us to sing and to wonder: “O Lord, you have created all! How did you come to be so small, to sweetly sleep in manger-bed where lowing cattle lately fed?”
But today the writer to the Hebrews declares a wonder: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” Maybe the Triune God isn’t in disguise in Jesus at all. Maybe nothing’s hidden.
It isn’t how we’ve always understood Christmas, for good reasons.
One is John’s proclamation: the Word of God from before all time, through whom all things were created, without whom not one thing was created, took on human flesh, lived among us. Isn’t that God hiding all God’s glory in that little baby? A baby surely doesn’t really look like God?
And Paul has told us that Christ did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped but took on our human flesh, became obedient even to death. (Philippians 2) Doesn’t that sound like God setting aside all God-things to become one of us?
Hebrews doesn’t quarrel with either John or Paul. What Hebrews declares is that being born among us is not God changing, or hiding God’s true essence. It is God revealing the exact truth about God. “Not regarding equality with God as something to be grasped” is actually God’s deepest nature, not a new thing. The Son reveals that God is never about power and might and dominance. And God taking on human flesh, living among us, is the only way to truly know and see God. John tells us that himself.
Because the Son is the exact imprint of God’s very being.
Literally, Hebrews says, the exact engraving of God’s own being. If you want to see what God looks like, Hebrews says, look at Jesus, look at God’s Son. Look at this vulnerable, weak, poor, oppressed baby – it’s an exact imprint of God. Follow this vulnerable baby to adulthood and see Jesus, the one who leads all to the heart of God. Who continues to be vulnerable, and apparently weak. Who reveals God’s deepest love in dying on the cross, ending all other sacrifices by God’s own self-sacrifice. All this is God’s real truth.
And, Hebrews says, the Son is – is – the radiance of God’s glory. Not a hiding of it. Not something we have to wait to Transfiguration to see. Risky, vulnerable, self-giving love, willing to die for another, willing to trust us enough to be a fragile baby in our midst, that is – is – the radiance of God’s glory, not a disguise covering God’s glory.
This utterly changes our talk of God.
Everything that we wonder about God, ask about God, fear about God, are confused about God, is answered in Jesus, the Son, Hebrews says.
So, is God just? Look at Jesus and you find the answer: yes. Does God care for those who are on the margins, those who hunger and thirst both physically and spiritually? Look at Jesus and you find the answer: yes. Can God forgive and love those who hurt and harm, those who sin, even greatly? Look at Jesus and you find the answer: yes.
Does God believe power and force and violence are the way to heal the creation, make things right? Look at the baby Jesus and you find the answer: no. Look at the adult Jesus, all the way to the cross, and you find the answer: no. Can God overcome evil and death without power and force and violence? Look at the crucified and risen Christ and you find the answer: yes.
The Son is the perfect revealing of the truth of the Trinity.
This utterly changes how you can see yourself, too.
In Genesis 1, God says, “let us create humanity in our image, according to our very being.”
Do you see? You are, I am, all people are, made in the very image of God, too, created according to God’s very being. When you see Jesus, you see the completion of that image, God in God’s fullness. The exact imprint, the radiance of God’s glory.
But you, and I, and all people, are created according to that same divine blueprint. God said, “it is good,” when God made us, remember.
We certainly live in ways that debase that image, that are not good. The evil humans have done grieves us and grieves God. It builds up and corrupts over time to the point where this world is overrun by systems and structures that perpetuate evil and oppression. And each of us is capable of doing our own harm, our own evil. Living against our true nature.
But never forget: you are made in God’s image, even if you’ve marred or hidden that image. Your true nature cannot be denied.
And if you’ve covered up that image, or marred it, or need to remember what God really looks like and what you could really look like, well, start today.
In the manger. Here you see the exact imprint of God’s very being. The radiance of God’s glory. All you need to know about the Triune God is shown here. In the love and path Jesus taught, walked even to death on the cross, all you need to know about your love and path are shown. In rising from the dead, the Son revealed God’s vulnerable, self-giving love can never be overcome. Not by death. Not even by you.
God’s not in disguise today. Neither does your God-image need to be hidden. Look to the manger and see God’s glory. See God’s truth and yours. And rejoice, for God only wants to be known in someone small and fragile and weak like you. Like me.
God can only be known this way. It’s who God is. And you, too.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
 From ELW 268,“From Heaven Above,” stanza 9, Martin Luther, 1483-1546; tr. Lutheran Book of Worship, copyright 1978.