Lesson 8: God’s Presence in Historical Events

The NativityIt is Christmas Day, an appropriate time to acknowledge God is present in historical events. Our worship every Sunday recognizes this in special happenings. We read scriptural reports on God’s actions throughout the history of salvation. We profess in the creeds events in Jesus’ life. Hopefully, the pastor offers a sermon that proclaims how God is active in the events of our own time and place.

It is important to observe we are making faith statements, not historical accounts. Historians record the same events without any reference to God. It is the theologian’s task to discern divine participation.

Let’s use Christmas as an example. The scriptures themselves describe the birth filled with mystery. They assume almost everyone at the time saw only a poor couple forced to deliver a baby in a cattle shed. Their response could range from disgust that the mother got pregnant outside of marriage to pity that there was no room in the inn for nonpaying customers.

Discerning God’s presence is dependent on receiving special explanations. Angels supply spoken announcements to the mother, the father, and the shepherds. Wise men carry a spoken message deciphered from the appearance of a new star. In some respect, that message has been passed from person to person down to us. However, the scriptures are clear that mystery remains. Mary still ponders these events and the messages that give them meaning.

The same kind of analysis could be made of any event in the history of salvation. God’s presence is detected only with eyes of faith. Ordinary human reasoning does not find it necessary to include divine participation in order to understand the creation, Abraham’s move, Joseph’s authority, Moses rebellion, David’s success, the prophets’ accuracy, Jesus’ execution, or any other historical event. Believers are making a confession based on a message outside of themselves.

The scriptures also make clear that God’s presence is not confined to these special events. Although believers in certain periods complain God is absent or silent, other passages, such as the prologue of John’s Gospel, maintain that God is present in all historical events. Humans have simply failed to discern him. In a sense, the revelation that God is active in some special events enables the believer to see God’s presence everywhere. John, at least, presents the Incarnation as God dwelling among us so that our eyes might be opened to see a divine dimension of all life.

That means that our celebration of Christmas should continue throughout the year. The spirit of the season is an expression of a proper relationship with the divine. We tell the story of a birth 2000 years ago so the Christ child might be born again in the hearts of people around us enabling them to see the divine presence in every birth.

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  1. Kerry says:

    Amen! Merry Christmas, Fritz. And many thanks for Frontline Study. Your reflections are food for the head as well as the heart!

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