THE FOOTPRINTS OF GOD
Your way O God, is holy. You are the God who works wonders. You have made known your might among the nations. With your arm you redeemed your people. When the waters saw you O God they were afraid, the deep trembled. You made a path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. Psalm 77
TODAY'S Scripture lessons have a single theme, namely that God is with us, and leads us in all the circumstances of our lives, just like He was with the people we encounter in those lessons: Jacob, the Holy Family, and the early Christians who received St. Peter's epistle. No doubt they were unable to understand what was happening to them; why famine had forced Israel into Egypt, why God did not stop the Herod's unspeakable violence that forced the Holy Family into Egypt 19 centuries later, and why God permitted St. Peter's congregation, His own redeemed people, to suffer persecution at the hands of cruel people. They could not comprehend it because they could not "zoom out" like we do on a Google Map to get the larger picture, or to see the blessed outcome, but by the advantage of Holy Scripture we can. We are able to see what the saints of old could not, in the words of our Psalm: the footprints of God through the water. We can see God's footprints in their lives, but can we see them in our own? It isn't always easy, but they are there and they are "Holy" as the Psalm says, so we can rest in peace. We can know for certain that God is leading us in a holy way and a holy life just like He did the saints of old
At this point we should be very careful so that we do not mistake the church's divine service for a motivational seminar, so that we do not confuse the true Gospel for a mega church pep talk. When we say that God is with us in all our circumstances, and that He will deliver us from evil, we are not talking about an abstract notion of God With Us, especially on the 11th day of Christmas; on a day when the church still basks in the light of God's mighty deed, the most arresting of all, namely the Lord's incarnation, for that is where we encounter God's power and God's Footprints, in the flesh of Christ. That is where we learn just how "with us" God is willing to be. Yet that too is a mediated encounter. As you can not get to God apart from Jesus, you cannot get to Jesus apart from the Word and Sacraments. You cannot hold Him to your breast like the Blessed Virgin Mary, or lean on His breast as the beloved disciple did. You can try to reach Him by your emotions -- that is what megachurches do because it is all they know -- but you cannot get there apart from here! You can talk about "having a personal relationship with Jesus," but unless it is accessed by baptism, it is little more than your imagination at work.
We learned this in today's Old Testament reading and it is still true today that God came to Jacob and spoke to him in and through holy worship. Jacob was about to leave the land of promise, the land of inheritance that God gave to his father Isaac, and to his grandfather Abraham before that. He was about to abandon the inheritance and go into a land that would give Christ's ancestors temporary shelter from famine, but would eventually enslave them for four and a half centuries! Moses tells us that as Jacob was about to cross the border in Beersheba, which is Israel's southernmost region, he stopped and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac, and there God came to him and to his tiny congregation of 65 people with a golden promise: Do not be afraid to go down to the land of Egypt, for I will go with you. I will make you a great nation and I will bring you back again.
It is the same promise that God makes to us in our worship today, only we know much more than they did. We know and believe and still celebrate God born as a man by the Blessed Virgin Mary -- the greatest mystery of faith that there is -- and that in and through and by Christ, God is with us as a man to lead us out of the Egypt of sin, sorrow and the grave, so it is not without reason that we reverently bow and that our spirits stir at the words "and was made man" as often as we recite them in our Creed, for He Who is "God of God" became "Man of Man." He Who is "of one substance with the Father," was made "of one substance with man." Man did not become God in the process, but God did become man and by His incarnation God raises humanity, raises you, to sit in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus, with the result that now, in Christ, you are glorious! You are of ultimate value! You are worth more than the sparrows, the trees, or the many protected species modern-day paganism deifies.
Yes, God is truly with us in Christ incarnate, Who dwells among us still today in the Word and the Sacraments, and it is by these that all the words of today's Psalm come true. It is by Christ incarnate in Word and Sacrament that God works His wonders for us: the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. It is in these that He makes known His might and His intervention in the Egypt of our lives each day. It is here that we learn to discern Christ who is the Footprint of God through the water; here that He gives us the needed light to shine forth in our lives each day. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Amen
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras