Not only does God love us;
God also likes us.
The story of Christmas is that we are not only loved by God,
but that God actually likes us.
Let’s think about this for a little bit —
about the difference between loving people and liking them.
Of course, the two overlap,
loving and liking.
You can love someone
and like them at the same time.
But they don’t overlap all the time.
I can think of people who I love, but I don’t like very much.
After all, I am supposed to love my enemies,
but that doesn’t mean that I have to like them,
that I have to enjoy hanging out with them,
that we get together for lunch or meet for coffee or a beer.
I don’t like my enemies,
but I love them,
or at least I try to love them.
I’m sure you can think of people in your life as well —
people who you love, but don’t particularly like.
If you wanted a pleasant evening at home,
you are going to try to spend it with someone you like,
someone who you actually enjoy being with,
and someone who likes you,
who likes to be around you.
You wouldn’t invite a person who irritates you
just to chill at your house, just to be around.
Now, what I’m saying here about Advent,
about Christmas, about this story in Matthew’s Gospel—
what I want to tell you, as a reminder, is a basic truth about God.
It’s this, this truth, about God and about us.
Christmas is the story about a God
who not only loves us,
but also likes us.
This isn’t just the story of Christmas,
just something we hear during this season,
as we reflect on a few passages;
but the story of the bible, the whole thing, is one long story
of a God who has always been finding ways to be with us,
to draw close to us,
to struggle with us,
to rest with us,
because God likes us.
All those traditional doctrines of faith
—creation, salvation, atonement, pneumatology—
all of them are trying to say the same thing,
they cohere in this mysterious truth,
that God actually likes us
and is committed to be with us.
The one who shared divine breath with the first human being in the garden,
who breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life,
is the same God who drew close to Mary,
being born as a human being,
God in our flesh,
“Look,” Isaiah says,
“the virgin shall bear a son,
and they shall name him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”
And not just with us,
but within us,
within a human body,
God as a human life.
God receives human flesh, a body,
I think we too easily forget the strangeness of all of this:
that God is at the mercy of Mary,
that the all-powerful God depends on a woman
who is one of the poorest of the poor.
The giver of life is completely dependent on Mary for life.
What kind of God does that?
What does this story do to the way we think about God’s power?
What’s God’s power for?
Power to do what?
And what does this mean for how we think about our power,
about what counts as power?
what power looks like, what it feels like?
When we think of powerful people,
I imagine we usually think of people who are invincible,
But the God we come to know in this Christmas story,
the God with the power to save and liberate us,
to redeem and restore us, as we heard in Psalm 80:
the God to whom we pray, “Restore us, O LORD God of hosts…
that we may be saved” —
this God becomes fragile and weak, dependent and needy.
Because God not only loves us,
but God also likes us.
God wants to be with us,
present to our lives,
involved with us.
Jesus is the ecstatic movement of God —
a God who can’t sit still because God likes to be around us.
God shows up in Mary’s womb for no other reason
than because “God desires and loves and befriends human [life]”
—and not just our lives, but all of life, all of creation,
the human body as a part of the whole,
our lives as woven from the fabric of our environments.
The incarnation is how God overflows into human life.
The incarnation tells the story of a God who can’t help but want to be with us,
to live with us,
to become part of all the stuff that makes us who we are.
God loves all of it.
God likes it.
God doesn’t have to like us.
God didn’t need to get so close.
God could have brought us salvation through some other way.
There isn’t a cosmic rulebook that lays out the conditions,
the rules, the policies, the strategy,
on how to save human beings.
There isn’t a rulebook on how redemption is supposed to play out,
a rulebook on how to win at the game of salvation.
When God becomes human,
God isn’t doing something that God has to do, that God is forced to do,
as if someone else or something else already came up with the rules,
rules that God has to follow for the sake of our salvation.
God becomes human through Mary for no other reason than because God wants to,
because God wants to be part of her life,
and through her to become part of our lives.
That’s the meaning of the incarnation.
That’s the meaning of what happened on Christmas.
The birth of Jesus is how we discover that God not only loves us,
but likes us.
God likes us,
not because of what we can do,
not because of what we may become in the future,
as if we were an investment,
but simply because God enjoys being with us,
on our side,
in our struggle —
just because God wants to.
The Christmas story is about God getting closer and closer to us.
In Mary we see God’s nearness,
that God is not foreign to humanity
but inside human life,
within our lives.
Not the divine as separate from human.
Not heaven as removed from earth.
Not with God above and us here below.
But God as transgressing those boundaries
in order to be with us forever,
which is our salvation,
the way God belongs with us,
and us with God,
as close to us as flesh and blood.