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Knowing the God Who Makes Himself Known

December 20, 2021 | Dr. Jay T. Smith

Yes Lord, we greet Thee
Born this happy morning
Jesus to Thee be all glory giv’n
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore Him
Christ the Lord

First published by John Francis Wade in his collection Cantus Diversi (1751)

It’s Christmas time! or, as Andy Williams sang,

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
With the kids jingle belling, and everyone telling you
be of good cheer…
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Well, maybe not the “most” wonderful time of the year, but pretty close! For many individuals however, it’s a difficult time of the year. It can be dark, cold, lonely, and unforgiving for many who are impoverished, hungry, cold, and alone. Indeed, for many, it can be difficult to find God in all of the trimmings of the contemporary holiday. It’s very likely that we will see the commercial Santa Claus holding a Coca-Cola™ before we see a child in a manger bathed in starlight and surrounded by mom, dad, shepherds, magi, and angels.

With the commercial meaning of Christmas conflicting so deeply with the spiritual meaning, it should be no surprise that so many find it more and more difficult to experience God this time of the year! Indeed, December’s climbing cases of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and suicide stand as witness to this difficulty. The bottom line is before the commercial culture took over Christmas, it was the time where people could not only experience, but even know God. That is indeed the reason why God is incarnate—made flesh—in Jesus: so human beings could know God.

How Can We Actually Know God?

As a theologian, I often think about the concepts of the “experience,” “knowledge,” and “presence” of God. How does a person actually experience and know God? Theologians point to the concept of revelation: God’s self-revealing, usually, if not exclusively in the Bible. Indeed, the Bible is the best way to know about God, at least the Jewish and Christian God. Yet, it’s not necessarily the best way to know God. I used to ask my students to repeat after me, “God is God, and I am not.” In other words, our attempts to know the Creator and Redeemer of all that is, the source of all Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, the absolute Love that is God, is not possible with our meager intellectual gifts.

However, like the toddler child reaching up for the embrace of her or his father or mother, we can reach up to God, and God will reach down to us. In this act, we can know God. When we ask God to “be with us” or simply sing, or cry out to God in adoration and worship, we find that God is there. We can sense God’s presence, we can know God’s love, and experience God’s comfort, and feel God’s very present energy.

Psalm 22:3 says, “Yet You are holy, You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.” Here the Psalmist tell us that it’s through our praises – our worship – that God is present. Even more telling is Paul’s statement in Galatians 4:9, 

“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles, to which you want to be enslaved all over again?”

Paul tells the Galatians that they know God through the Spirit of Christ-God, who resides in their hearts. It is in this situation that you realize that you are known by God, a state of being by which God makes Himself known to us. When we praise God, the energy that is the presence-peace-love of God makes God known in us!

Shrinking Back from God’s Presence

Yet Paul does not end there. He asks why then do we “turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles, to which you want to be enslaved all over again?” Why do we turn back? And what are the “weak and worthless elementary principles” he is talking about?

We turn back because of fear—a fear that is suggested to us by the Deceiver and our world. It is a fear that suggests God’s presence is “too good to be true,” or that “what we are ‘feeling’ is simply a psychological anomaly,” and the like. So, having now doubted our experience of God, in an act of self-preservation, we pull back into our old familiar routines, believing that if we can’t scientifically verify God’s existence, then God must not be real. The doubt then feeds depression, loneliness, and anxiety.

Simply Call on Jesus!

There is a solution though. Speak, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Speak this three times, then watch as the fog lifts. In the worst of times, God makes Himself known as we call out.

And then my favorite chaser: I sing so softly the chorus from Adeste Fideles: “O Come Let Us Adore Him, O Come Let Us Adore Him, O Come Let Us Adore Him, Christ the Lord.” The fog lifts, and the joy returns.

Do you want to know God this Christmas? Do you want the anxiety and depression to disappear? Then simply call on Jesus, adore Him, sing to Him, and your life will change.

Merry Christmas!

Dr. Jay T. Smith

President and Bridger Professor of Theology & Ethics

Dr. Jay Smith leads the Yellowstone Theological Institute as its president. Dr. Smith has served as minister of youth, music and as senior […]

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