God turns up in the strangest of places. You pick up a rock, and it seems to be just a piece of coagulated sand grains. Luther said it is a noun in God’s language. The majestic mountain range which rises on the horizon with its snow-capped peaks gleaming in the distance turns out to be just an expression of God’s imagination. You encounter the behemoth (Job 40:15), and the Creator expects you to recognize He shaped it and turned it loose—but always has it on His leash. We search for Him in the depths of our souls and fail to see He is dancing among the stars. We long to see Him in Heaven, and He has plopped Himself down in the middle of life on this earth. Mounting up to Heaven in search of Him always sets us up for a dramatic fall.
God does not really seem to belong in a crib. The very idea of Mary and Joseph having to change God’s diapers seems somehow inappropriate if not worse. As a matter of fact, He was born a baby to give us new birth, new life. No one would make an appointment with God and expect to be told to come to the executioner’s block on Friday. But He welcomes us into His death so we too may die—though not forsaken by God, since He has entered death for us. The last place you would go looking for God is in the tomb, but He has joined His crypt to His crib and His cross as His rendezvous spots with us. He does not abandon us in the grave but takes us along as He breezes on through His grave into life everlasting.
God the Holy Spirit is not as hard to pin down as we might think. True, He blows like the wind, where and when He wants to, but He is also waiting for us—again in the strangest of places. He loves conversations face-to-face, so He ambushes us when we open His book. He has been lurking behind Isaiah and John and Paul all the time. It looks like just plain water, but with the water comes the Holy Spirit, giving His promise as the power conveyed in His command. It seems like normal bread and wine, but the Holy Spirit has put His promise of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation along with Christ’s body and blood in it as we hear the words, “For you.” At the altar we feel the wind at our back, propelling us into new life, breathing afresh this gift of re-creation once again as we receive Him really and truly.
At the altar we feel the wind at our back, propelling us into new life, breathing afresh this gift of re-creation once again as we receive Him really and truly.
We just stumbled over the hungry beggar and could not help but give her something to eat. We just bumped up against the fellow with his tongue hanging out and shared our water bottle with him. And it turned out Jesus was there. The foreigner, the asylum seeker, the immigrant in search of the same good life which brought our own ancestors to this land, seemed a threat, but despite ourselves we reached out to support and help. What do you know? This stranger was a highly placed relative of Jewish extraction! Naked people do not really attract us, but we wind up leaving our coat with Jesus anyway. We despise criminals—fear always leads to hatred—but we get a card back from the jailbird that a friend forces us to write to, and the return address is: “Right hand of the Father.” God’s hideaways are manifold.
What do we do with a God like this? Often, we try to reinvent Him. We trace His image behind the clouds, or we imagine Him to be thinking just as we think. The nineteenth-century German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach said, “Man creates God in his own image.” That is not just a description of the false believers. It is the temptation with which every one of us Christian’s struggle. The Pharisees knew this temptation all too well. Only a very few we know of were like Nicodemus and actually eager to be born again from above. But our attempts to recast the biblical images of God into our own image always turn out badly. In times past, many visualized God as another version of their earthly fathers. He was a perpetually angry, sometimes even a cruel God. Today, many are tempted to view Him as a neglectful and disinterested, distant parent, an image just as mistaken as the former.
He comes to us out of the reports of others from their encounters with Him, from Eve’s Eden to John’s Patmos. With His Word He makes Himself heard in our lives. As our Creator, with His ever-new ways of taking care of our need, He reveals His presence as a full-service God, the source of all good things and our haven in every time of need. We experience His ingenuity and inventiveness as the Re-Creator who makes all things new, fresh as the first morning, fresh as the dew of our baptisms. The Holy Spirit’s repetition of the baptismal conferral of death as sinner and resurrection as a child of God gives us each day a fresh perspective on how to refresh those around us with the love of Christ as we project it into the lives of others. Our Creator also puts on some spectacular shows in nature for us. He astounds us with the force of wind and water as He also comes to calm our fears amid the waves that force creates. His spectacularity also creeps into our consciousness as His small maneuvers of mercy and our little thrusts of thankfulness interrupt the drabness of our days and darkness of our dilemmas.
With His Word He makes Himself heard in our lives.
As our Rescuer and Restorer, He enters the traps into which we have blundered—sometimes by accident, sometimes by rushing after some false goal or false image of the true God. He has joined us under and upon the crosses to which we have been condemned by others or which we have sought out for ourselves. He has laid claim to our indictments and then soaked them in His own blood, so they are no longer legible by our judge. He has taken His own tomb as the depository for our sins and failures. He puts the pieces of the puzzles of our broken and frazzled lives back together through rising from the dead to restore our righteousness.
As our Guide and the One who stands by us, as comforter and protector, as defense attorney against Satan’s accusation, as our probation officer showing us how to live free on the streets again, God comes out from behind the masks of those whom He sends us with His message in word and deed. In all these roles He comforts us, encourages us, and points us in the right direction, the good and godly life filled with trust in our magnificent Triune God.
Our God is one God, three persons. Inseparable, yet each taking on specific tasks that, in the mystery of the Godhead, are shared by all. So, we encounter Him in various ways and unexpected places, at countless moments of our daily lives. His distinctive activities on our behalf all invite us into His rule and domain, there to live as His own family, reflecting what we have experienced at His supper table, in our own self-sacrificing love. Given His nature, as the One in whose image we find ourselves, it is no surprise we encounter Him finally in our own creativity and willingness to stand by others in our suffering, in our crosses, as well as in the message of new life which we broadcast as He projects His presence into the daily realities of others through our lives as His children.